Mary Baldwin University senior Casandra Jones traveled to Chennai, India, this summer as a part of the world music ensemble Global Rhythms, founded by Mary Baldwin’s Artist-in-Residence Srinivas Krishnan. She joined a team of more than 20 members from various disciplines, including Krishnan, Indian musicians, and students from Miami University of Ohio.
“I think it’s one of the redeeming qualities of music — you don’t have to major in it to get it,” Krishnan told The Times of India, which covered the August Global Rhythms performance. “These youngsters are pursuing various disciplines. Music just happens to be their greatest love.”
The group dubbed themselves “Moxie” after an American soda drink from the turn of the 20th century, because they wanted to embody the meaning of “moxie” as “having energy, courage, and determination.”
Jones, who had not performed since high school, reinvigorated her passion for singing during the trip. Global Rhythms encourages its performers to capture different ethnic styles and traditions in a single performance.
“The people we performed for loved that it was so different,” Jones said. At one concert, the group performed African-American gospel music, Haitian songs, and “Jai Ho” from the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. About embracing multiple genres, Jones said, “It was weird and awesome at the same time.”
The group visited Kalakshetra, a conservatory centered upon the study and performance of traditional Indian arts. While there, the Moxie’s went to different lessons with Indian musicians and partnered with four conservatory students on a barbershop quartet piece. The American and Indian students became fast friends during the musical exchange. “They’re like our best friends now,” Jones said, affirming the idea that music is a universal language.
As well as experiencing different styles of music, Jones enjoyed being exposed to different instruments while studying in India. She especially responded to the nagaswaram, a double-reed instrument popular in the traditional Carnatic music of southern India. For Jones, it was fascinating to approach Indian instruments with American ears. “The worse it sounds to me, the better it sounds to them,” she joked about acclimating to the nagaswaram’s distinctive sound.
In response to her first trip to India, Jones was impressed by how hospitable everyone was. “You could have an amazing cup of tea anywhere,” she laughed. The Rotary Club of Chennai sponsored the Moxie’s housing in hotels and also arranged for them to stay at local homes. “Every house we went to wanted to give us food and chai,” she said. “Everyone loved music, too.”
Jones found ways to apply what she learned from Global Rhythms in India to her major in public health. “I wanted go abroad to get experience in global health. Just being around a different culture is inspiring,” she said.
Though her interests in music and public health may seem divergent, Jones thinks of music as a tool for improving people’s lives. She referenced the World Health Organization’s definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease. “The experience really made me realize again how much everything can be connected to public health,” Jones affirmed. “Music is connected to health.”
Krishnan will return to Mary Baldwin to lead an international cafe talk on “India’s Changing Corporate Culture” on October 5 at noon in the Spencer Center.
There will also be an information session with Krishnan and Jones on October 5 at 5 p.m. in the Spencer Center for students interested in the experience.