Human and Musical Contacts / 音楽による人のつながり-アラン

Human and Musical Contacts
By Alan

On Sunday, our quartet visited two sites dedicated to the care of those who were either formerly afflicted by Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) or currently in treatment. As Midori explained to us prior to our visit, despite how curable the condition is today and the very low risk of contagion, we saw those with the visible symptoms of the disease (however minor or major their deformities) forced to live in isolation, marginalized by the wider community.

I was struck by the loneliness of the more elderly among those with whom we interacted, especially in the first community we visited, the Ba Sao Leprosarium. Following the quartet performance, I played some solo cello repertoire for an old man and woman living in one of the many small, dark rooms lining the campus. Each of them must have been over 75 years in age, and had been living on site for several decades. Unable to move around unassisted, they told me in between the music pieces how quiet and unvarying their daily lives had become, with few visits from family and friends each year (if any). I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with them, as short as it may have been (we even shared a few laughs!). The gratitude they expressed was as much for the human contact as it was for the music I had offered. As we drove away from the site, I found myself reflecting on how wonderful it would be if more musicians could come regularly through such places and create cross-cultural, cross-generational relationships with their inhabitants. Regardless of tradition, performance truly is a great catalyst for human bonding, under the right circumstances. And people like the old man and woman I met deserve so much more of both.

The second institution we visited, Van Mon Leprosarium, was in Thai Binh province, with a considerably larger campus and population. Here, too, the quartet members had time to spread out, and this time, we each played for several rooms of elderly, bedridden individuals. The most memorable interaction I had was with a woman in her eighties who’d been residing in the community since she was 19 years old. Through the interpreter, she communicated (with palpable energy) that in spite of her physical appearance, she was mentally fully alive, and that although the music I performed was difficult to understand (with all its ‘ups and downs’, as she put it), she truly appreciated my taking the time to play for them. That was a sentiment I picked up from the quartet performance as well – by most indications, our audience was very glad to have us there. For my part, I was particularly pleased to hear one of the individuals sing us what I took to be a traditional Vietnamese song as a prelude performance – a single, melodious line, also with its little ups and downs.

It would be lovely to go back to these places some day, to learn more about the residents’ lives and the music they grew up with, not to mention how these institutions’ carry on their work in the changing societal landscape of Vietnam. As our contact from the Netherlands Leprosy Relief explained, parties interested in facilitating cross-cultural activities must clear quite a few bureaucratic steps required by the government to obtain the necessary permits. I hope the continued engagement of music programs like ICEP and other arts initiatives can continue bringing more and more cultural practitioners to visit the country’s more remote communities. It would behoove all of those involved – both in and outside Vietnam.