UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 1 | Jan.
The Harmonies of Human Conflict
By Erica Smishek
Is there a music of human security?
Paul Evans, acting director of the Liu Institute for Global
Issues, posed the question to Rena Sharon and Sal Ferreras,
teachers at the UBC School of Music and acclaimed performers
working in divergent musical styles.
“Over lunch with Dr. Evans, we came to a meeting of
minds,” says Sharon.
Teaming up with other musicians, they recently presented
an evening of musical and visual interpretations of human
security called “Night of a 1000 Dinners” at the
Liu Institute. They hope the event, a fundraiser for the Canadian
Landmine Foundation, is just the beginning of continued collaboration
and exploration in this unusual area.
“It has definitely ignited a certain spark,”
He and Sharon are an unlikely duo. Born in Montreal, Sharon
is an internationally acclaimed pianist who began her life
in chamber music at age eight; Ferreras was born in Puerto
Rico and has explored his passion for percussion through world,
contemporary and symphonic music. But they share a mutual
interest in global issues and how music reflects various states
of human conflict.
“I have always been interested in the ways that global
issues intersect with what we do as musicians,” says
Ferreras, who is completing a PhD in ethnomusicology at UBC.
Sharon, meanwhile, has a keen interest in conflict resolution’s
role in chamber music. She co-directs the Young Artist Experience
with Eric Wilson,pofessor of cello at UBC. It is a unique
interdisciplinary chamber music camp for teens that blends
intense music study with explorations in art, science, humanities,
and global studies. Through it she has made many community
contacts and is a supporter of the Liu Institute.
Provoked by Evans’ inquiry, Ferreras considered how
you would define the music of human security, how it has been
used and how it would be organized. He came up with four pillars
of conflict that populations can go through -- catalyst, sustainer,
reconciliation and renewal -- and began to collect music that
would apply to each pillar.
“Catalyst is the music of action, like a battle cry
or a war song,” he explains. “It elicits an adrenaline
rush and transforms people from ordinary citizens to warriors
He cites the Olympic theme as an example of a national affirmation
linked to competition that helps people connect in an historical
way to nobility.
Sustenance includes music that has grown out of national
trauma, hardship and sorrow.
“It reinforces the collective spirit of a people,”
Ferreras explains. “It is music that joins people together,
not so much for a cause, but as a way to identify with each
other and to try to overcome the same trauma.”
Examples include Argentine music from the 1970s, Central
American music created during the civil wars of the 1980s,
and most national anthems.
The music of reconciliation, Ferreras says, “is nostalgic,
faith-based, often slow and repetitive like a sedative, it
puts you in a state of receiving.”
Examples at the Liu event included The Last Post, a traditional
composition played at most Canadian Remembrance Day services,
and a composition performed live by Persian tar master Amir
Koushkani which is evocative of music prohibited in Iran and
took the form of a set of notes designed for a very specific
emotional expression and response.
“For countries that have gone through trauma, it’s
a question of what’s left over? How do you forgive?”
Ferreras explains. “In the case of South and Central
America, people who were the oppressors are still there and
people have to learn to get along with them. Music is one
of the only devices that can bridge that gap, that polarity.”
In the fourth stage -- renewal -- populations have gotten
past the reconciliation stage and are seeing a real sense
Ferreras points to the South African national anthem, which
was written in the 1880s. Suppressed during Apartheid, it
became very popular with the black population as a rallying
cry and song for liberation. It eventually become recognized
throughout the world and is now the official national anthem
of the country.
Another example is On the Transformation of Souls, a John
Adams work commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for victims
“It has a text built from the names of people who were
the victims,” he explains. “It is a huge expression
of sentiment, an affirmation of values and recognition.”
For the chamber music portion of the concert, Sharon was
joined by her colleague Andrew Dawes, members of the Infinitus
Quartet, and UBC opera student Mike Broder. The Brahms Piano
Quintet was chosen for its diverse echoes of lamentation,
ferocity, solace and energetic resolution. Sure on this Shining
Night, Samuel Barber’s luminous song, closed the evening
with a contemplation of a place for humanity within a mysterious
While Ferreras says there is no single approach to this musicology,
he looks forward to further research on the
The Lessons of Chamber Music
Rena Sharon would love to see diplomats and world leaders
engage in a drumming session before any discussions or negotiations.
“It could become common international practice! Sal
Ferreras could be the UN facilitator of Musical Unification
Sensitization for Intuitive Communication, ” Sharon
says with a chuckle. “Everyone gets a drum and they
just start a fabulously raucous musical dialogue. The collective
sound is irresistible. You can’t participate without
feeling happy and energized. It breaks down verbal barriers
and elevates the sense of the communal.”
Sharon, a professor of collaborative piano studies at UBC,
has been fascinated by the role of chamber music interaction
as a model of conflict resolution and peace-making since fall
2001 when she met General Romeo D’Allaire at a luncheon,
hours after his lecture on his experience as the Canadian
General in charge of the UN troops during the Rwandan genocide.
D’Allaire asked the pianist about her work and what
makes chamber music creative. She told him how four musicians,
who often don’t know each other and may have very different
interpretive ideas, come together to perform a piece of music
that they all love. She explained that “there is no
leader in chamber music -- everyone gets an equal vote. Decisions
must be arrived at through collective agreement, with no primary
spokesperson, no veto powers, no hierarchy.”
“Yielding to our colleagues can be emotionally, philosophically,
and to a small degree even physically excruciating. And yet
we all agree to compromise because the consequence of those
concessions can be breathtakingly meaningful. You can’t
get there by yourself. Chamber music only really works when
our most complex insights and most intimate emotions are shared