This week we are meeting Jamie Dunphy, who is a musician and an educator, an activist, the member of jazz group Mill City Trio and supporter of Musicians without Borders. This year, Jamie has organized a diverse musical evening combining renaissance, classical, country and rock music, which you are very welcome to attend on June 21 at The Chelmsford Center for Arts in Massachusetts, USA. We were very happy to connect with Jamie and to learn about his path to music and social activism.
1. How did you find your way to music?
I was 10 or 11 years old when I found my mom’s old guitar in the basement and began beating the heck out of it. I took lessons on and off for a while, but didn’t get serious about music until my late teens. Eventually, I completed a master’s degree in guitar performance and started a career as a performer and educator.
2. How did you become involved in social activism?
I feel like I’m just getting started in that regard. A couple of years ago, I began volunteering at a local food bank. And then in the fall, I started running a few music classes at the local Boys and Girls Club and looking for other ways to bring music-making experiences to folks who might not otherwise have them. I’m realizing that there are a great many opportunities right here in my own community.
3. What are the ways that a musician can make a difference today?
Providing people with the opportunity to experience the joy of making music is one way. It sounds simple, but we all need an outlet for our frustrations, and a way to soothe our worries. It’s no small thing. I also think that a musical event can be a great opportunity to bring attention to a particular cause. A concert is a really unique occurrence: a group of people gathered peacefully to share something beautiful. Everyone involved – the performers, the audience, the venue owners and staff – want the show to go well and to be moved by the music. There’s really nothing else like it.
4. What are the main challenges for a musician-social activist?
I think just the pace of our lives and the overwhelming amount of information available are big challenges. It’s so difficult to properly process it all and discern what’s truly important, and as a result, I think a lot of us end up tuning out the wrong things. Of course, it’s great that the internet and social media have allowed a wide range of causes to receive world-wide attention. But as a musician-activist, it’s easy for your particular cause to get lost in all the white noise.
5. What motivates you to collaborate with Musicians without Borders?
I found out about Musicians Without Borders through an interview with the Buddhist monk, author and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. His writings have been a big influence on me, so to hear him speaking so highly of the organization piqued my interest. As I said earlier, my focus is mostly very local, so I really like the idea of being involved with an organization that is making a difference in so many parts of the world. For me, it’s the “thinking globally” part of that old adage.
6. If you wanted to inspire people through music, what song/composition would you play?
“One Great Thing” by the band Big Country. We ended last year’s WWMD concert with all of the participants playing that song together. Such a great moment, hearing all of these players from such varied backgrounds coming together. I can’t wait to do it again this year! Stuart Adamson, Big Country’s lead singer and lyricist, was someone who believed that music could bring about real, meaningful social change. Sadly, seeing the world around him and his personal life falling apart was too much for him to bear, and he took his own life in 2001. I think his is an important cautionary tale. There’s so much work to be done, but if we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need to make time to care for ourselves and each other.