Beyond the Wall: Esprit de Corps

singers singing


Music is magical. As divisive rhetoric about the border inundates the news, music enables us to engage on a deeper level and to create solidarity — even when the divide appears too deep.

A step toward understanding was taken on a cool March evening on the University of San Diego campus. Twenty-eight singers gathered to rehearse a set of songs inspired by the border and their shared humanity. Coordinated harmony and passionate lyrics conveyed a sense of urgency, deconstructing rhetoric and countering divisiveness by adding new voices to the discussion.

“Music is a really powerful way of communicating what it means to be human,” says Emilie Amrein, DMA, assistant professor of choral studies at USD. “It’s really remarkable. If you come into a space and make music with another person, you feel strangely connected to them. It’s mystical, almost spiritual.”

Amrein’s most recent project, Common Ground Voices (CGV)/La Frontera, was in-spired by the CGV reconciliation program in Jerusalem, which aims to “generate a meaningful collaboration through music.” In partnership with Boston University professor of music André de Quadros, Amrein established this immersive community music initiative to bring together singers from all over the United States and Mexico for a weeklong residency at the border.

“Like a lot of people, I’ve been struck by the polarizing rhetoric about the border,” she says. “We need to be doing something as culture-makers, as musicians and artists about what it means to live here, separated from other people just across the border who are going about their day-to-day lives like we are.”

These singers are taking an active role in the border debate, listening and bringing their own voices to the discussion. Being in solidarity begins with “an ear for listening,” says Amrein. For the singers participating in this project — which include four USD Chorale Scholars and several student interns — it means experiencing both sides of the border and understanding the common humanity of one another. Residing in Mexico and the U.S. over the course of the week, singers had the opportunity to perform in Barrio Logan and at Friendship Park, with participants singing on both sides of the border.

“I think music has a special capacity to change space. To change the energy in the space and so, to me, the idea of making music is a little bit defiant,” says Amrein. Music can transcend, and for Amrein, bringing many voices together makes them stronger, especially as a response to divisiveness.

“We are doing something active. We are engaging in conversation and dialogue. We are listening. We are putting our voices into the mix,” she says. “We are no longer bystanders.” — Allyson Meyer ‘16

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *