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Making Music in Spain

At Goshen College, my university in the U.S., I am a Spanish and music double major. The Spanish component is the reason I am here studying abroad in Spain, and I couldn't be more glad that my major requirements include a semester abroad!

However, music is also incredibly important to me, not only for my studies but for who I am as a person. I admit, I had some doubts about taking a break from my usual routine to spend three months in Spain - I was afraid that I would fall behind in music, taking a step backwards in one of my fields in order to take a step forward in another. I think that's a pretty common fear students have going into a study abroad semester - is studying abroad worth the sacrifice of progress in your normal studies and activities?

Short answer: YES.

Long answer: Studying abroad IS progress, no matter what. This may mean a different kind of progress than we mean in the United States: a progress where you measure your accomplishments by how many new people you meet in a day or how many new places you discover in a week. While studying abroad, the best thing you can do is take what you're passionate about and involved with in your "normal" routine and find ways to plug that into your new surroundings. The result? Even more enriching and inspiring experiences abroad, great stories to tell, and a way to take what you love and make it a bridge between cultures. For me, that has happened with making music in Spain.

One absolutely unforgettable example: I participated in a midnight jam session on top of a castle! A friend of mine who works with our CEA group, knowing I am a musician, invited me to join his group of friends for a musical gathering on top of the Castillo de San Fernando, an 18th-century castle perched at the top of a nearby neighborhood. This gathering, called a timbalada, is basically a big group of friends who get together to play guitars, drums, harmonicas, and even kazoos! I joined in playing my violin and we ended up playing for hours! Along with the improvised chord progressions, people would join in with impromptu raps, whose words were anything from clever puns and rhymes to pretty interesting political commentaries. This was a wonderful instance where something I'm passionate about opened the door to meting a welcoming, fun group of young people with an interesting perspective on everyday life in this city.

While in Alicante, I have also been able to continue practicing classical music, the style I study at home, which helped dissuade my fear of falling behind in my major. I joined the Chorale at the University of Alicante, where we sing not only traditional pieces by Mozart and Handel, but also Valencian folk songs typical of this area in the Valencian language. Singing with the Chorale was a great way to get to know the music of this region, as well as become part of a group of friends at the University.

I also had the privilege of taking violin lessons with a violin professor who teaches at the Conservatorio Superior de Musica, the local music institute. She invited me to her home to take lessons and received me with a warm welcome. This was my first time taking lessons in Spanish, which was a great exercise in vocabulary and, at times, charades!

Finally, as I have been lucky enough to study abroad in Spain, I've gotten a taste of the rich musical heritage of this culturally vibrant country. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the music of Spain as an audience member as well as a musician. In my all-too-short experience, what I have learned is that music here is organic, emotional, nostalgic, but simultaneously realistic, and above all to be shared in community. This is evident in some of the live shows and concerts I attended here:

During my weekend trip to Granada, I saw this Flamenco show! The bar that hosted the show was tiny and inconspicuous, but some incredible music was made in the tunnel-like back room! Flamenco is a mysterious, intense, incredibly beautiful genre, and seeing this show made me want to continue to learn more about it.

In the last few weeks of my time in Alicante, I went to another tiny bar downtown to see this guitarist and singer from Cuba. I loved the intimate atmosphere - rather than having strictly an audience and a performer, the show was a collective experience as the crowd often joined in to sing, dance, and play percussion along with the musician!

While in Spain, I not only grew as a musician, I also thrived in this culture in which the sharing of music is cherished. Music is my passion and something through which I could connect to my host culture. I encourage everyone who is considering traveling or studying abroad to use what you love to build bridges, be it music or sports or art or anything under the sun! Trust me, with that in mind, studying abroad is no sacrifice. It's an extremely rewarding step along your way.

Hillary Harder is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Alicante, Spain. She is a junior at Goshen College.
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