Breaking Boundaries and Building Bridges

May Aihua Ye (right) and Nancy Hammoudah (left). Photo Credit: Aaron Van Heest.

May Aihua Ye (right) and Nancy Hammoudah (left). Photo Credit: Aaron Van Heest.

On Thursday, January 26th, I sat at the piano bench in the dismal practice rooms of the school of music at Western Michigan University. My eyes would often wander from the Brahms sheet music in front of me to the stained orange carpet. Lately, I’d been struggling to find purpose in what I do. With less than one hundred days until I perform my senior recital in pursuit of a Bachelors of Music degree in Piano Performance, it doesn’t feel right to practice the music of eighteenth-century aristocrats which once provided me with joy and peace. I can no longer justify creating this art I once found so powerful. Now, I feel guilty spending hours every day in practice rooms.

The calm I once experienced is now overpowered by an awareness of the tremendous suffering and pain felt in my country and across the world, the fear felt by so many who are being marginalized and oppressed. There was a time when I was content in my career path. I dreamed of using music as a means to conflict resolution in the Middle East. I deeply believed in its ability to unite people, to heal and to bring comfort. Watching the week of January 20th unfold, manipulating beautiful melodies out of black and white keys was no longer possible. With a major recital looming, I found myself unable to focus on this important last requirement of my degree. I took my phone off of the music rack and typed a message to my friend: “Will you come if I organize a rally against Islamophobia?” A minute later, I texted my friend back: “I AM organizing a rally against Islamophobia for next Sunday. Hope you’re in!”

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