Our recent trip to Luxembourg to participate in the Transatlantic Dialogue offered the opportunity to explore my life-long interest in music as well as to explore other European cities with which we’ve had little or no exposure. The atelier that I offered at the Transatlantic Dialogue was a stretch for me but ultimately reinforced the importance of music in my life and demonstrated that music is a very effective metaphor for learning about culture.
The inspiration for the Transatlantic Dialogue came from a Luxembourg colleague, Francois Carbon. Francois is an artist himself and works to enhance students’ experiences at the Univesite du Luxembourg through cultural activities. I attended the first Transatlantic Dialogue in 2008 and was honored to be invited to contribute an atelier (artistic experience where I would perform on piano) for the 2017 meeting. I have not played serious piano in public since college so even thinking about performing wrought significant anxiety. However, I worked on two pieces for many months (among other pieces I’m mastering) to demonstrate the similarity between discovering art and learning/mastering culture. To my great satisfaction, I didn’t freak out as a result of focusing on performing as simply being the conduit for great music. It worked, and worked so well that the participants gave me the most positive feedback I’ve ever had on a conference presentation. Who would have thought that, after all these years of speaking at conferences, playing piano and using the music to learn about culture would have such an impact? I thank Francois for his leadership and Judy Rogers (former Miami colleague) for twisting my arm to explore a different part of myself in such a supportive place. Someone asked at the conclusion of the atelier, “Well, did you like what you found?” I responded, “No question!”
After Luxembourg we rode a train to Basel, Switzerland, spending a day there before boarding a river cruise for 8 days on the Rhine River through France and Germany and ending in the lowlands of the Netherlands. Three weeks in central Europe renewed our passion for travel and allowed us to meet so many wonderful people and see many interesting places. My favorites were Strasbourg, France, Rudesheim, Germany, and Leiden, Netherlands. Each of these towns has a fascinating history shaped by dynamic cultures over time. Strasbourg has been traded back and forth between France and Germany several times in the last 100 years, resulting in a unique blend of both as well as the emergence of a unique Alsatian culture, cuisine, and perspective. Rudesheim lies at the mouth of the Rhine River gorge, an area lined with many old castles and fortresses; it is also a village that boasts German pride through an amazing sculpture standing atop its vineyards and defiantly confronting France across the river. Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the church that the early American pilgrims left in order to seek religious and personal freedom, possessed all the cultural and artistic diversity of Amsterdam but with an understated charm.
Transatlantic Dialogue, the opportunity to perform music again, and exposure to diverse histories and cultures was profoundly renewing. Regardless of the challenges countries face today, I was reminded of the goodness of most human beings, the struggles faced in human striving, and the strength that comes from colliding cultures.