Striking a Chord, Struck a Chord

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“This is so familiar,” I think, “I have to capture this on film.”

I whip out my phone so I can save this moment. I’m sure that once my friends from home watch this video, they’ll experience the same deja vu that’s currently making my fingers tingle and causing nervous laughter to escape my chest through my lips.

This is so familiar.

Over three years ago, I sat in the auditorium of a rival high school as we awaited the results of our district choir competition. I never really felt that I had a strong singing voice but I’ve always loved the feeling of my own voice joining with dozens of other voices. That desire to meet others who just loved to sing together is what pushed me to audition for my high school’s concert choir. I was elated to be accepted. After months of working hard as a group, we gave the performance of a lifetime. When it was all said and done, we were left sitting and fiddling with the ends of our cardinal-red robes while we waited to find out the results.

As a sophomore, I was one of the youngest members of the group. My frizzy, biracial curls were struggling to stay in the style I’d straightened them into and I had (maybe) one friend in this group of 54. I loved my choir but I felt out of place. I barely knew any of them and I was too nervous to try and make friends with the bored-looking senior sitting to my right so I just sat there pretending like I didn’t want to talk.

Luckily, I didn’t have to be quiet for too long. The magic was about to begin. First, the other choirs left so that they could go back to their schools and make it to their last classes of the day (our director had already excused us from our last class so we didn’t have to go straight home). Then, the judges left to deliberate in an undisclosed location (it was the library). Finally, our director was feeling ultra anxious and decided that the halls needed a good pacing, so he left to go take care of that. All was silent for a few minutes.

Just as I started to get antsy, a junior boy with a storm cloud of hair and wire-framed glasses came out from stage-right carrying a guitar. “Does anyone want a jam?” he asks. Despite the thick Korean accent, we all know what he means. He wants an old-fashioned, jam-sesh.

“What do you know, Jai-Moon?” someone behind me asks.

“Uhm, how about this?” Jai-Moon answers, playing the opening chords to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. We all murmur our approval and pick our way over the rows of seats to get to the stage.

“Open up your mind and see like me…” Jai-Moon starts us off with the first line of the famous tune, and from there a few of Jai-Moon’s fellow tenors hop onto the melody, giving the verse its bones. Soon the women jump in. Altos are bringing in the harmony and add some flesh to the next few lines and by the chorus, sopranos are ooing and ahhing wordless descants, making the song feel alive. The chorus hits and we all sing the melody. There’s clapping and drumming on the stage. Some bass’ are giving us some vocal percussion and we’re all swaying and moving together. Blissed out faces surround me and nervous laughter escapes my chest because I’m nervous and happy and have never felt a community like this before. When the song ends, we clap for ourselves and sit knowing that we will forever be family after that day. We shared something special.

Come back to today and I’m an incoming sophomore, again. I’ve left my first community behind in search of a new one in college. I’m no longer in choir but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the wonder of a good jam-sesh.

Where I sit, I’m surrounded by people that might have been strangers my whole life, had I not signed up for a study abroad program that would push me from the nest and plop me in Africa. Like the day of the competition, I’m nervous. Today I’m not competing but instead I’m representing. I am in Morocco and I am an American and I’m nervous because I have no idea what that means to the Moroccan university students that sit with FullSizeRender (2)me and my classmates at this bulbous, make-shift banquet table. What will they expect of me? As an American, as a woman, as someone who is biracial? I fiddle with the end of my shirt while we make halting small-talk.

The guy sitting two seats over reaches behind him and pulls out a guitar. He scratches his beard with the pick and then asks in a thick Moroccan, “What would you like me to play?” A few half-hearted suggestions come from different parts of the table but no one can really think of a song we’d all know all the words to.

“Uhm, how about this?” Oussama asks, playing the opening chords to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Smiles break out across the table and we all whoop our approval; we all know this one, for sure. “Open up your mind and see like me…” Oussama starts us off with the first line of the famous tune and from there we waste no time to all hop in. This isn’t a group of singers, like my choir, but people are harmonizing, drumming on the glass patio tables, and belting the melody without shame. I make eye contact with the girl across the table and we serenade each other for a moment before bursting into hysterics. The tension has dissolved and we all sing the line that will have me remembering this moment for the rest of my life:

“Listen to the music of the moment, people dance and sing, we’re just one big family,
And it’s our God-forsaken right to be loved, loved, loved, loved, loved.”

I mean, come on. This is basically a scene in a cheesy coming-of-age movie. This kind of a moment should have only happened once in a lifetime but here I was on the rooftop of a cafe in Meknes, drinking mint tea, singing Jason Mraz, and this moment wasn’t entirely unique.

Do I feel like the moment was diminished in any way? Hell no! Can you imagine how happy I was to pull out my phone and share this moment with the friends who I shared such a similar moment with years ago? How could such a moment surpass any fears I’ve ever had about my age, my race, my gender, and my nationality, twice? Through music that had traveled across the world, I could connect with people who’d grown up somewhere thousands of kilometers away. We were not Americans or Moroccans, but instead we were this weird, transnational, mix of the two. We shared a song and a language and not only did it free me from my inhibitions but also freed the Moroccan students of theirs. I saw from their point of view, too. It’s hard to be young, adhere to gender roles, traditions, standards of race and nationality. This moment negated all of those things, though. We were family, now.image1

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