Learning through Cultural Immersion

| November 30, 2010


I’ve lived abroad for a good portion of my adult life and have always felt that no class has influenced me as much as those experiences have. But how does cultural immersion affect a learning process? Often times I’ve discovered it does in intangible ways. However, there is potential for a more quantifiable experience as was the case with Jeremy Barnes. I met Jeremy while living in Istanbul, Turkey in 2008. He was touring with A Hawk and A Hacksaw at the time and living in Budapest, Hungary. He and Heather Trost received a grant to study music with Hungarian folk musicians. They shared a passion for the culture and music in Eastern Europe and Turkey and have been pursuing that passion to extremes, knowing that they could only learn so much without immersing themselves in the cultures that inspired them.

Teaching with the Video

Cosmopolitanism is becoming a much talked about topic in education. How does this video relate to these conversations. How does Jeremy–in his willingness to be open to new cultures and new ideas, in his willingness to learn from others, in his willingness to let boundaries blur–exemplify a cosmopolitan spirit? What can we learn from this spirit? How can educators encourage a cosmopolitan orientation to learning; what would a cosmopolitan curriculum look like?

Extended Interview

How did you end up with a grant to study Eastern music in Hungary?

A Hawk and a Hacksaw had been touring as a duo, we did a lot of touring by train in Europe and traveling all throughout the US and Europe and especially England. For some reason (I’m not sure how it happened) but the English Arts Council came to a show of ours and they basically said we’d like you to write a grant and come up with a concept and apply. Our application was, okay, let’s do some collaborations with some eastern European musicians, we’ll develop a tour, we’ll play folk songs from different places, we’ll also teach them the songs that we’ve written and see what happens

How did living in another culture affect your learning process with music?

So, when we arrived we kind of realized very soon that practices were different there and what we were used thinking of as practice was getting together and playing music but with the Hungarians it was all about drinking pálinka which is Hungarian brandy and eating Hungarian food which a lot of the times a lot of talk and a lot of BS before it got down to actually sitting and playing. But we realized being influenced by everything is part of it.

Did you anticipate the ways that it affected your process?

The first that should say is that it was never my intention to become a cover band. I didn’t want to copy the music per say, I wanted to learn from it and take things but I wanted to create music for who I am as an American and where I’m coming from. I’d rather just listen to Romanian music than put out records of Romanian music. That’s not my job. I think that folk music when it’s living, it has to evolve and I don’t consider myself a Romanian folk musician, I don’t consider what I do to be necessarily Romanian but it’s heavily influenced by it and affected by it.

A musician in Romania told me that they were interested in our music because we weren’t copying them; we were influenced by them. And you know influence is all about taking things from different places and again that goes back to traveling you take certain things from different places and that’s what folk music is about. It’s learning from…not from books and not from only one way to do things, but living folk music that whether its between two towns in one region or learning different ballads from a different village or what it’s about this day in age in hearing and traveling and being influenced by and learning from other musicians to create something of your own.