Design of a Program for Refugees

Creating a music program for refugees involves taking the time to doing a lot of learning,  information gathering and listening, as well as visiting areas of the city that may be very unfamiliar to you. The culture and traditions as well as the language of the refugees may also be new to you and will require some time to absorb and understand.

There are many people who can help and guide you along the way, people who are  familiar with the refugees and the issues they face. But for you, one of the most important first steps is to do some field work:

Start with visits to a school, community center, clinic, library or ethnic food store in the area where refugees are settling and where you might want to start your program. Listen, ask questions, network. Trail a teacher or social worker and observe. What ethnicities are there? Are they from all social classes? What did they do for work?  What is the range of education, professional skills and ages?

What does your city look like from their perspective? Take your time absorbing their environment and seeing through their eyes. Are the experiences of adults different from that of the children? What issues emerge? What are their biggest challenges in making the transition to their new home?

What brought them here? What are their stories? Are there other US cities where refugees of this ethnicity settled? What can you learn from what worked there? Are there music activities in these other communities?

Do you see any opportunities to use music to help with their transition? Interacting through music would help smooth their adjustment to a strange culture and language, and help create a welcoming, safe, supportive environment. You can share experiences and at the same time show them connections to the culture, stories and music of your community. You may find a way to (re)affirm their cultural identity and history, while learning about their familiar music and stories. Music could address the trauma they might have experienced as well as the major adjustments to moving to an environment so different from their original one.  You help them to connect in many ways to their own culture as well as to their new environment.

How might you begin?

Engage in a participatory music experience singing or playing instruments. If you decide to start children on violin, you could include songs from their music traditions.  Many of the music traditions are oral, so writing down some of the more famous ones, teaching the children the melodies and giving the music to the families at their request can be a deeply meaningful gesture.

Suggested reading:

The Experience of Being a Refugee: Insights from the research literature. Barry N Stein 2010 This is an old article, but a useful starting point.
Local refugees struggle to transition in US.  Dayton Daily News

Other ideas:

You could speak to people already working with this population:

Who found housing for them?

Who gave them their initial orientation?

Who is working with them on language skills?

Who is helping them find jobs and get job training?

Who is emerging as a group leader that could help you?

You could collaborate or at least work in cooperation with the support services around ESL (English as a Second Language) programs.

Developing a program may take some time, with many twists and turns, and perhaps a re-evaluation of what success means. In my case, working with refugees started with joining up with a literacy project, SOLE, which I will describe later in this article. As that project came to a halt when college students left for the summer, I had an urgent request to help with a fundraising event for Nepal Earthquake relief efforts. Because of the SOLE literacy project, I already had Nepali music, a Pitt ethnomusicologist specializing in Nepali music, Western and Nepali instruments, Nepali professionals willing to sing in a choir, and connections to the Nepali community that helped make the fundraising concert more effective and meaningful for everyone. Those connections continue to evolve as we help support rebuilding efforts. While visiting a Jain temple for a service and as part of promoting the concert, I was able to connect not only with the Nepali community but with leaders of the Indian community. And most recently, as a result of these engagement efforts, a well-known Indian performer suggested a joint collaboration. It’s quite a change from where I started! Your efforts may lead you in a direction quite different than this.

Below is a description of the SOLE pilot project:

In Pittsburgh we chose to piggyback on the work of Computer Reach, a group that was studying the effectiveness of using shared computers at homes to supplement learning ESL in the classroom. Computer Reach took responsibility for documentation (video and narratives) which are essential when you apply for grants. NOTE: If you partner or team with another agency, many of the staff roles can be handled by them, and the musicians can focus on finding the appropriate music.

Pilot: 2014 SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment) project for Nepali Bhutanese refugees
The SOLE project was designed and developed by Computer Reach.
The music component was developed by a musician in partnership with a music therapist.

Possible music goals: 
Strengthen a sense of belonging and a welcoming environment. Provide hope. Encourage and nurture their personal strengths and ability to overcome obstacles. Connect what they know to similar things here: instruments, customs, songs. Reinforce positive memories or events by telling familiar stories from their childhood and recognizing important cultural events from their country and religion of origin and by connecting the familiar to the unfamiliar. What else?

Computer Reach’s Dave Sevick got funding for the pilot from a prominent local foundation and provided 100 restored G4 towers, monitors and keyboards, mice and power strips, 100 tables and 400 chairs. Computers were donated to Goodwill and restored by CR volunteers. CR did data collection, video and photos to document the project. CR designed and developed the program, recruited and organized teams for the project. That way the musicians could focus on their specialty.

Note how different the community partners are for a project like this compared to our usual partners:
Newcastle University, UK Sugata Mitra (started a project in India that inspired the development of SOLE)
The Pittsburgh Foundation Fisher Fund
Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh
Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations
Hilltop YMCA
Allegheny County Department of Human Services
Vibrant Pittsburgh
South Hills Interfaith Ministry
Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council
PA Vision Foundation. Provides exam and glasses to participants
Dollar Bank
Greentree Printing
Jewish Family and Children’s Services
Repair the World (Jewish volunteer group)
Baldwin High School
Pittsburgh Public Schools

You will probably find similar organizations in your area.

So how can you get more familiar with your population? Depending on your interests and time available, you could do at least SOME of the following:
Identify famous writers, performers, politicians, educators, and personalities of this ethnicity.

Research the history and background of the refugees, their educational level, their concerns, what their housing (dirt floors? rural? multi-story, tin, mud, bamboo?) and social organization was, and what helped get them through until now. The education levels and experiences may be wildly different in the same ethnic group, since masses of people from all walks of life were displaced. Some may never have learned to read and have never been in a classroom; others may be college graduates, fluent in several languages. Do/did they use cell phones? Internet? Radio or TV? What was/is their usual transport? What is the attitude toward sharing? Borrowing?  Pay attention to social customs, particularly the relationship and interactions between men and women, and people of different social strata (were they accustomed to not eating together?).

What acoustic instruments and music are familiar to them? What experience have they had with music?  How is their language, written and oral, different than English? What is their accustomed method of learning (classroom, oral)? What was and is their religion? How did/do they practice or observe it? What does it mean to them? What is their attitude toward illness and health care? Medicine? Hygiene? What was the geography and climate in contrast to where they are currently living?  What are familiar foods? Animals? Plants/trees? Is there anything taboo? Are there any colors, gestures or anything else that has a different meaning than what we are familiar with:  avoiding 4, white for mourning, pointing, eye contact, saving face, symbols? What is the concept of time/timeliness? Work? Authority? Law? What other information should we know?

We learn about them as they begin to relate to us and tell us their stories.

Useful resources 
Include their ESL teachers in your planning: When they take ESL,  find out what concepts create the most difficulties  learning, and identify psychological areas that might be addressed musically: can you learn and teach each other songs from each country and ethnic group represented? Can you use instruments that are familiar from their upbringing? How about small percussion instruments? How does music fit into the culture from which they came? You could ask an ethnomusicologist specializing in the customs of your various ethnicities.

Look at the pamphlet Learn About the US quick civics lessons (It is a pamphlet for the naturalization test).

Identify music therapists, psychologists  and ethnomusicologists specializing in this population (check with local universities, health care providers  and libraries).

Use the website Mama Lisa’s World It has music, lyrics and translations from many countries.

Music  as a Global Resource. Solutions for social and economic issues. Compendium. Fourth Edition  is an invaluable source of information about ongoing music projects addressing community concerns.

Foods: are there local restaurants, grocery stores of this ethnicity? Can your group provide ethnic foods for your events?

Look at Upbeat Drum Circles

Find Folktales translated into English. For the Nepalese this might include Nindra Maya, the Kings Parrot, Anecdotes of the Gurkha Soldier, Folk Tales from the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, the Decision, Tales of Old Bhaktapur, Nepalese Fairy Tales, Lore and Legends of Nepal, Bending Bamboo, Changing Winds, the Golden Umbrella. What tales are their own favorites?

Is there an El Sistema program near you? Do they have resources that would help you?

Two other good resources that came out of 9/11:
Caring for the Caregiver The use of music and music therapy in grief and trauma ed. Loewy DA, MT-BC and Hara MA, MT-BC
Collective Trauma, Collective Healing Jack Saul

Supplies that might be useful:
A giant playable keyboard mat (you can add upper and lower case letter name stickers) is a good ice breaker! And it is another way of practicing English alphabet letters.
Native Nepali instruments include: sarangi (Nepali violin), madal (Nepali 2-headed drum), Nepalese tabla and small percussion. What instruments are unique to your population’s original country or culture?
You can use flash cards, with each card naming a type of body percussion. The activity teaches action words such as snap, clap, brush, tap, stomp.
Suggestion: If you want to use percussion, choose percussion instruments that are not too loud; for example  fruit-shaped shakers, thumb pianos, a marimbula, djembe, small bells, or an ocean drum.

Find CDs and DVDs that connect your ethnic groups to other music traditions here. Look for connections between the music they know and what is familiar music to us. For example:The Mountain Music Project DVD and CD. A very interesting cross-cultural effort that connects Appalachian fiddlers and sarangi players, Old Tyme fiddle tunes and Nepali music. Both have oral learning traditions, families of players and makers. Investigate your own group’s music traditions.
Folk Songs and Sacred Music from Nepal. What are your groups’ folk songs and tales?
Sur Sudra Festivals of Nepal  What festivals do your various ethnicities celebrate?
Himalaya Roots traditional music of Nepal What is your group’s traditional music?
BBC sound effects library India and Nepal City Life (street sounds) The sounds are very different from what we hear. There are sound effects for many major cities globally!
Nepali music (free on Spotify, YouTube )
Himalayan Sounds of Sarangi
Songs and Dances of Nepal from the Smithsonian Folkways Archival Library. Check to see if they have music from your refugees’ countries.
The Healing Drum CDs Christine Stephens, music therapist.

Identify songs for your project: include songs with local ties, seasonally appropriate songs, songs with ties to local sports and pieces that connect something familiar from their past to what is similar here. Have them teach you songs and stories from their upbringing. Connect it to something you show them. Do movement or action songs. Make something up together. Create a “band” using instruments from both cultures. Teach each other.

Music for a Nepalese population:
Music Collections:
Appalachian Fiddle. Compare this with the ornamentation  in music for sarangi as well as for  Irish or Scottish music.
Indian Melodies for Violin  Candida Connolly compare ornamentation to Irish or sarangi music
Old Time Fiddle Style 
Music for Two . Comes in many volumes, produced by Last Resort Music. Can make a path connecting the smaller ensemble pieces to orchestral music.
Traditional and Folk Tunes of Nepal Vijay Kumar Sunam, especially Parbate folk tunes
Nepali songs (look on YouTube )
Are the following songs familiar? And appropriate? What do they mean? Can we use them?
Piper came piping
Her Zinga (the fly)
Sita rani bonai ma
Deri dhul paareko
Honira salala
Das avatar
Asaar mahina ko geet
Resham firiri
Daina khabara
The crow, cow, dog and ox are mentioned as part of traditional fall festivals (Deepawali/ Tihar.) Are there any appropriate western songs relating to these animals? Any other festivals that could be related to US festivals?

Because much of the folk music came from an oral tradition, it may be difficult to find sheet music. I found a supplier through music I purchased from Amazon, who went to Nepal frequently and was willing to buy (very cheaply) anything I requested: stories, instruments, music. So keep searching!!

Below are some songs you could teach newcomers, but also look for appropriate ones you know and like!! Many are free online, or you can find them in a good public library (try the children’s section). If these seem outdated, what songs do you think newcomers should learn? What do you consider the classics?
ABC song (Twinkle, Twinkle)
Abide with me
All through the night
America the Beautiful
Are You Sleeping
Arkansas Traveler
Ashokan Farewell
Auld Lang Syne
Bach: solo string instrumental suites, sonatas and partitas, two -part inventions, Wachet Auf, Gavotte II ou la Musette, French Suite for piano.
Bagpipe tunes. Ornamentation has similarities to ornamentation on sarangi.
Bear Went Over the Mountain, The
Cavalleria Rusticana Intermezzo Mascagni
Chicken Reel
Cluck Old Hen
Come Follow
Coro did Zingarelle from la Traviata
Coventry Carol
Danny Boy
Days of the Week
Die Zauberflote (magic flute) Mozart
Down in the Valley
Drowsy Maggie (Local version)
Eency Weency Spider
Flower Duet from Lakme
Gonna build a mountain
Goodnight ladies
Good morning and how do you do?
Greeting (introduction) song such as Shalom Chaverim (my Friends) or similar song with words you make up
Grouch Song, The
Hallelujah from Shrek
Happy Birthday
Head and shoulders, knees and toes
Hokey Pokey
Home, Sweet Home
Hush ‘n’ Bye (hush little baby)
I Love the Mountains
If You’re Happy and You Know It
Irish fiddle tunes: Cooley’s Reel, Dry and Dusty(scordatura), Irish Washerwoman, the Kirn, Orange Blossom Special, the Otter’s Holt, Sleep Sound I’ da Mornin’, Swallowtail Jig. Is anything similar to sarangi music?
Lazy Lucy
Loch Lomond
Lullaby Brahms
March of the Toreadors
Molly Malone
My country tis of thee
New World Symphony theme
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi
Ode to joy
Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be
Old Joe Clark/ Oh Susannah
Old MacDonald
Over the Rainbow
Over the River and Through the Woods
Papageno’s Song from Magic Flute Mozart
Pennsylvania Polka (became Steelers football local song)
Pop! Goes the Weasel
Romanian Folk Dances Bartok
Rose, Rose, and Up She Rises
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Scarborough Fair, All the Pretty Little Horses
She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain
Simple Gifts
Singin’ in the Rain (local connection)
Skaters Waltz (hockey)
Somewhere, over the rainbow
Spring Vivaldi
Star-Spangled Banner
Summertime Gershwin
Swallowtail Jig
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (baseball)
Telemann canonic duos. Relate to rounds, fugues.
30 days hath September
This is the way we get up in the morning (Hap Palmer)
This Old Man
Three Blind Mice
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (ABC song)
The Water is Wide
Wheels on the bus
White Coral Bells
Who’s That Tapping at the Window?
Wide River to Cross
Winter Vivaldi
Yankee Doodle
Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?

Much of this music is public domain or otherwise free on the Web. You could of course have quite a different list than this. Piano reductions are easy to adapt to myriad instrument combinations. Have them teach you songs they know!
As you learn more about this population and their culture, how can the  orchestra weave that into what it presents:
In children’s concerts demonstrate a Nepali instrument side by side with a more familiar orchestral instrument?
Play an Irish fiddle tune, an Appalachian tune and a Nepali sarangi melody to see how the British empire affected their music?
Commission a piece for Nepali sarangi and violin? That way you have a modern piece, directly related to your community.
What else???

Enjoy the discovery process. There is always more to explore!