Ten Women. Six Countries. One Voice.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Berklee City Music Teacher, Annette Philip, about her involvement with Women of the World.  She spoke so eloquently about the group, her musical experiences, and her role with City Music, that I decided to put the full excerpt here because editing her words didn’t feel right to do:

1. How did Women of the World come to be?

Women of the World was the brainchild of Berklee alumnus, Ayumi Ueda from Japan, who sought to bring women musicians from across the globe onto a common platform. The idea was to collaborate and create not only through the sharing of music, but also to explore and celebrate the differences in ideologies, and cultural tenets that exist in the daily lives of women all over the world. Currently a 10-piece ensemble with members representing Japan, Italy, India, Haiti, Mexico and the United States of America, the ensemble has toured in Japan and North America, with performances at the Blue Note Jazz Club, Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, BeanTown Jazz Festival, TEDxBoston, and United Nations events. 

I think what makes being in Women of the World such an enriching experience are the everyday lessons we learn from each other. We currently sing in 21 languages, and focus on learning folk and traditional music from different countries, exploring ways to bring those different influences into our collective creativity. 
It’s a beautiful family… I learn a lot from interactions both on and off stage. Being a part of Women of the World is so much more than simply learning repertoire and performing. It’s about learning to navigate life with people who come from starkly different cultures. Each of us has different perspectives on any given topic – be it etiquette, ethics, food, communication, confrontation, gender roles, body image, codes of conduct; and that’s besides our differences in music tastes…. the list is endless. I’ve learned a lot about what peace is to different people. And how there is so much more we need to understand about the world around us; and about our immediate surroundings especially. 

But what I’ve been reminded to do more than anything else is this: It is good (and vital) to keep dreaming. To keep visualizing those future realities, despite what others may tell you is impossible. And most importantly, to stay true to yourself, while allowing yourself to evolve constantly.

2. Where do you see its future?  

I truly believe in the power of positive collective action. Each day, we resolve situations in as peaceful a manner as possible. It can be challenging when you work with ten strong, independent, highly opinionated individuals – we disagree a lot, and it’s beautiful. It means we’re thinking! 

Besides the goal to share our music with audiences all over the world, we hope to keep growing individually and collectively as a unit. We are excited about learning new rhythms, new harmonic concepts, and new musical vocabulary with each genre or style we choose to explore. We’re equally excited about collaborations with like-minded artists who believe that music can change mindsets and aid in conflict resolution. 
We continue to work with young musicians in each country we visit, through workshops and master classes, sharing what we know, and learning from them at the same time. We also try to support causes that resonate with our mission. For instance, this year, we are supporting Plan’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign which aims to support millions of girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them. 
We not only seek to educate our ensemble members about these important world issues, but also hope to use our music as a channel to spread more awareness to our audiences. 
So in a nutshell – I see Women of the World continuing to evolve, with its members being both musically and socially conscious of all the rich diversity that surrounds us. And with this evolution, other ripples of positive change are possible. Think for instance, how far can one hug reach?  
3. How has your experience as a Berklee City Music teacher been?
First off, I am constantly amazed at the level of talent that exists in the City Music network. Initially my interactions were mainly with students from the Boston area. No matter how difficult the pieces are, I find that students are always up for a challenge. From Bulgarian folk music to rock-operas; Indian tabla bols (vocal percussion) to 6-part jazz harmonies – there’s nothing they can’t achieve with hard work and a positive mindset. 
One of my favorite moments happened two weeks ago during our rehearsal – every single vocalist improvised and traded with the band. The initial reaction to my assignment was utter horror. “I can’t improvise” was the common excuse. After the initial round, the class didn’t want to go home. Fear had turned into fun. 
Over the last two years, I also had opportunities to visit other network sites in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Both of those experiences were entirely different, and I learned so much! It is also incredible to work under a master musician, teacher and mentor like Winston Maccow, who is the Director of Ensembles at Berklee City Music. His experience, versatility, in-depth and authentic knowledge of music is rare. Observing other teachers has helped my own teaching to evolve, and each new experience gives me fresh perspectives on how to approach different situations.
I am grateful and blessed indeed, to be part of the Berklee City Music Network. I’ve grown so much as a musician, and a person, and am proud to be part of an organization that is committed to bringing about change in young people’s lives.
4. What advice does Women of the World have for young women today?
  • Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big.
  • There are no limits. Only those you put upon yourself. Which means, you have the power and the choice to free yourself from those limitations.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. If you feel someone has a more developed skill than yours, don’t be inhibited. Instead, revel in their brilliance. And learn from them instead.
  • You have a unique voice, a unique message, a unique purpose. Find it. Learn how to channel it. And then use it. Your gifts were given to you to be used.
  • Embrace change.
  • Embrace yourself. As you are. Love yourself unconditionally. Only then can you spread love.
  • Be grateful and thankful to people surround you. Gratitude can change your mood in any situation.
5. What was a life-changing musical moment for you?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one moment. I find that there are myriad things every day that strike me, that inspire me, or affect me in some positive way. Just three days ago, Women of the World was working on a new composition of mine. We ran the song over and over again, tweaking here and there, allowing for new ideas to spontaneously emerge and be absorbed into the piece. And then, suddenly it felt like every single musician in the room was connected in infinite ways. I felt such a rush – we were on exactly the same wavelength, and the piece built up so beautifully, I couldn’t even sing or play piano anymore! Just inexplicable joy as the music took on a life of its own.  
Music is the most powerful element that keeps me grounded, motivated, inspired, and joyful. It calms me down, it gets me excited, it keeps me focused, it distracts me. And all of it is wondrous to experience and live. 

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