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our work > news > Music & Resilience in Myanmar
Music & Resilience in Myanmar
October 1, 2018  

Guest post byJoanne Lauterjung

* Joanne Lauterjung, MA, currently works part-time as Country Representative for the US-based Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, and consults on curriculum development, training, M&E and program design. A musical “dabbler” who plays many instruments but none of them at an extremely high level, her passion is in circle singing (layering vocal improvisation) and percussion of all kinds: body, bottles, or bongos.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
—William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697)

Vocal Playshop in Yangon, 2014

The “savage” beast, in the case of Myanmar, is a complex, complicated creature born of extended isolation followed by rapid globalization, militarism, religiosity, colonization, trauma, and fear, as well as tenacity and resilience.

I first stepped into this context in 2011 while studying for an MA in Conflict Transformation in the U.S. This was a mid-life career change, and it has allowed me to leverage my years of experience as a communications consultant, and weave in my creative interests such as theater, visual art and music. I’ve been using arts-based facilitation for nearly 10 years now, but two years ago I made a commitment to focus more specifically on music-based programming, and the MWB TOT a year ago was “it”, for me – I’d found my tribe, and felt confident in my choice to promote music as a element of social transformation.

There are three areas of my work that now focus on music. The first one is a multi-year action research project through Deakin University in Australia that looks at whether or not arts-based pedagogy improves comprehension, retention, motivation and confidence to solve problems creatively. This research is one component of an asset-based community development project in Rakhine State, a conflict setting with a long history of ethnic and religious divides, both within the state and with the central Burmese government. We are exploring ways in which arts-based learning provides tools for managing emotions and supports rational engagement in (everyday) peacebuilding processes. Multiple workshops have been held over the past three years, and each one has included a musical element such as identity and songwriting, music as a teaching and advocacy tool, and the use of metaphor and symbol in processing and reflecting on new concepts. We are now in the process of writing a paper, and hope to be finished in early 2019.

“I’d found my tribe, and felt confident in my choice to promote music as a element of social transformation.”

Identity and songwriting workshop, Rakhine State

The second area is M&E for music-based programming. I was the technical advisor for an evaluation with Turning Tables Myanmar, a program that works with diverse, marginalized youth providing music education combined with social cohesion understanding, collaborative songwriting, recording and video. Each seven-day workshop ends with a music festival where participants can perform alongside well-known acts, giving many youth their first taste of public expression of the issues that matter most to them. During the course of the evaluation it was clear that gaps exist between the research on music education’s effectiveness, donor priorities, and program design. I had worked on other evaluations in the past, but this time I could see clearly how, through M&E, I could provide tools for more robust music-based programming, as well as raise donor awareness and advocate for continued funding.

The third area is to use music as a tool to build resilience. I was invited by fellow MWB TOT participant and music therapist, Tsvia Zanger-Horesh, to co-develop and co-lead a workshop with IDP workers in Kachin State in August, 2018. While much of the news media report on Rakhine State, the situation in Kachin State is also extremely dire. The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting with the Burmese military since a ceasefire broke in 2012, and nearly 100,000 people have been displaced, living in squalid IDP camps, often near cities that are already stretched and struggling. Metta Development is the largest local NGO in Myanmar, and employs over 600 staff working in just about every corner of the country. Participants included IDP camp workers – people working in humanitarian aid provision, preventing gender-based violence, and harm reduction for drug use and HIV/AIDS. Tsvia and I designed a five-day workshop focusing on music and resilience, adding in communication skills, creative problem-solving, anger and stress management, and non-violent communication. We used songs, movement, found percussion and pulled several exercises from our MWB experience. The response was extremely encouraging, and Metta staff indicated a desire to make this available to not only staff, but specifically their leadership team.

” . . . I could see clearly how, through M&E, I could provide tools for more robust music-based programming, as well as raise donor awareness and advocate for continued funding.”

Percussion for resilience workshop in Kachin State

Looking to the future, I have more ideas than I have time! I am currently working on a website, SonicBloom, as a resource for music practitioners with links to research, activity sharing, and to promote evidence-based, effective music-based programming. I am looking for ways to promote music as a driver of economic development by linking musicians to community-based tourism, and preparing a presentation to chambers of commerce to promote the use of music for staff team building and at special events. I’m also exploring the possibility of creating regular, ongoing community music events in Yangon with fellow MWB alumnus, Luis Gustavo-Flóres. And lastly, in January I will apply to the Sibelius Institute at the University of Helsinki with a PhD research plan to explore vocal improvisation, resilience, risk and reward. At an age when many of my friends are looking at retirement, I feel renewed energy and excitement to pursue a path of music that matters.

Topics: Guest Blog