This past summer, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. For the first time, I was immersed in a new culture and able to gain global perspective on parts of life that are important to me, like music. I was surprised to find how much music played a role in the bustling city. I was motivated to learn more about the styles of music that Florentines enjoyed, and was pleasantly surprised to learn the taste is not too different from what I am used to in the United States. Luckily, my Beginning Italian professor valued music and made music a priority in her life, and I was able to learn from her.
Camilla, my professor for the first half of my time on Florence, is a musician. She plays the piano, violin and sings. She is the lead singer in a band of four, and frequently performs at small gatherings and events throughout the city. I was curious how she balanced teaching with music, and when I sat down for a cappuccino with her one day, her answer was one of the biggest take aways I have from my study abroad experience.
Camilla explained to me that she “invests her time in beauty.” This does not mean physical appearance, rather the moments in life where she sees a lot of beauty around her. She said she loves to teach study abroad students because of the mutual exchange in learning. She is passionate about her cultural background and wants students to learn about the language, history and people of Italy, and she also wants to learn about the difference in American lifestyle. She sees this beauty in music as well. She loves to study the emotions behind lyrics and feel them. Camilla’s ear for feeling allows her to sing in a touching way that ignites many moods depending on what she is singing about. It is very easy for her to balance her teaching career with her music career because she never feels as if she is working. She exemplified the goal of loving her jobs, and waking up every morning with an eagerness for new experiences.
This conversation with Camilla will always stay with me. I believe I understood what she meant about the “beauty” in music later throughout my summer during a specific moment.
I was frequently lost in Florence without the aid of my iPhone maps and unfamiliarity with how the street signs work in Italy. When lost for a while, I would find a bench to sit down and regroup. During one of my moments of regrouping, I noticed a timeless tune playing feet away from me. A street artist was playing his violin to my favorite Disney song, Tale as Old as Time, from Beauty in the Beast. I was struck with joy as I recognized the tune, and I soon noticed that the two women on the bench next to me also recognized the song.
I looked at the women and told them it was my favorite song. I quickly realized they did not speak English well, but were Spanish-speakers. Between my little knowledge of Spanish and Italian, and their little knowledge of English and Italian, we communicated using the three languages and briefly got to know one another and spoke about our enjoyment of the street musician.
After a while, the women left, and I was alone to reflect on what just happened. Although there was a language barrier, I had just communicated with strangers about music, an art that knows all languages. I suddenly understood the unique beauty Camilla expressed about her perception of music. It is something special. An art that can connect people from opposite sides of the globe, an ignitor of joy, and something that can amplify understanding. For these reasons, I do believe music has the power to connect people in a way no other form of communication can do.