Masterclass: Masterclass “Music’s role in educa...
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By Dr. Luis De La Calle

Research Team on the Didactic on Arts and Movement (DAM) Faculty of Educational Sciences

University of Geneva


I was born in Peru, where at age of 5, by observing, listening, and imitating (orality), I learned Andean traditional/ folk music which refers to pre- Columbian transmission practices which have a ritual / festive function inspired by Andean mythology: a dialogue between the community and the elements of nature (mother earth, sun, moon etc.). I learned to play Andean traditional music on the quena (Andean end-blown flute) and siku (Andean pan flute) by cultivating their original character (5 000 years old); This original character is an opening in which the soul gives the best of oneself; if the performer lacks a cultivated character, the expression of the sound would be poor.


At age fourteen, I won first prize at national music performance competition in Peru (professional level) organized by the Ministry of Education and the embassy of Germany.


When I was fifteen, a Japanese actress heard my solo concert and proposed that I further my career in Japan. At age of 16, I went to Japan and became a disciple of the Noh theater master Hideo Kanze, one of the most talented descendant-masters of the Kanze school, which was founded in the fourteenth century. As the director of my concerts, he taught me the inner strength to master the instruments (the quena and Japanese flutes). This took more than simply perfecting a technique to provide entertainment. He told me about the teachings of Zen Buddhism that were incorporated into the ritualization of Japanese music. These form a meditation on the unity of the mind, the instrument, and the body. Such meditation is an essential element in the mastery of every Japanese art. I was taught that it was through the practice of the arts (practical training) that results in important insights, habits, human and spiritual values, attitudes, and behavior, which lead to enlightenment.


Because of my integrating both traditions (the Andean and the Noh), and because I released solo albums (on Victor, JVC World Sounds) and played hundreds of concerts throughout Japan (sponsored by Sony Music) and on TV and radio shows, the Ministry of Culture in Japan considered my performance as the world’s most talented performer on the quena and the siku. After I was in Japan for four years, my master, Hideo Kanze, presented two future options: continuing a successful artistic career in Japan and soon in Europe, or doing research on the Indian cultural origins of the Zen Buddhism philosophy used in Noh.


At the age of nineteen, I chose the second option. For seven years I studied Vedic philosophy and its music from Ancient India. My masters, Srila Jayapataka Maharaj and Shashank Subramanyam, taught me that performing music is understood as bhakti yoga: philosophy and practice in which the mind is controlled and” yoked” through love with the Absolute and the Divine. For this reason, I won the European Excellence Award for the scientific presentation of Vedic knowledge from ancient India and its music.


According to my research, musicologists state that the North and South Indian music traditions have roots in the Sama Veda, a vast collection of verses (sama). This is the musical version of the Rg Veda, set to melody and sung by singer-priests (Raghavan, 1962).


Through Vedic literature, musical sound and its profound theological significance led to nada brahman, or sacred sound as the linguistic word and the nonlinguistic sound, or music (Beck, 1993).


Regarding the nonlinguistic aspect of nada brahman, Shashank Subramanyam, one of the world’s most outstanding Carnatic flute masters and my Carnatic flute teacher, said, “When the voice or the performance of any instrument is perfectly trained with all the notes of the Indian classical music—sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si in the Western version)—we will discover that these notes are variations of one only note, which is nada brahman, or OM.”


The effects and the precise repetition of the rhythms (talas) and scales (ragas), with scientific forms between the notes and rhythms which when sung along with mantras awaken a person’s higher levels of consciousness by: acting on the internal personality and transforming its sensibility, way of thinking, and the state of the soul—even one’s moral character.


Summary of oral traditions: I studied the performance on the flutes and their music from Japan and India, and I discovered the same thing as in Peru: there were traditions in these cultures having the opportunity to know very closely these three ancestral musical cultures, from which I learned by oral tradition: observation, listening and imitation. Hence my interest in the observations of the different forms of transmission.


Written traditions


So, in order to make a comparison between the mentioned oral traditions and the western European written tradition, I went to Denmark to study the European transverse flute at the music pre conservatory in Copenhagen, Denmark, where only one flute student per year is accepted after a rigorous entrance examination. Three years of classical European music and jazz at this conservatory radically changed me. I discovered fidelity to writing and reading scores, or normative knowledge. The experiences that I had there carried into the current work I do while performing the Western repertoire as flutist in a symphony orchestra at the international school of Geneva.


Desiring to integrate the contributions of the four music traditions, I invented a flute, the De La Calle quena flute: the quena’s head joint is connected to the key mechanism of the European transverse flute’s body in order to perform all kinds of music styles of the world with the notes of the twelve tonalities from western European music. The quena is the pre- Incan Andean end-blown flute which has the same head joint as ancient flutes such as the Shakuhachi from Japan and Xiao from China


Based on this invention, I obtained a Bachelor’s degree of soloist and two Master’s degrees at Lund University in Sweden, where I studied for eight years with Prof. Dr. Anders Ljungar-Chapelon. This was the first time in history (recognized by Lund University) that a musician earned a university degree based on a musical invention by the inventor, while the inventor was still alive.


After all these experiences with the above 4 music cultures, I asked myself, what is a tradition? To answer this question, I approached the University of Geneva in Switzerland and did a Ph.D. in the Sciences of Education (with a specialization in didactics) over the next five years. In the last ten years I have been a member of the research team in the Didactics of Arts and Movement (DAM) at the Faculty of Sciences of Education. My Ph.D. dissertation was recognized by this university as the first doctoral research in the history of education investigating the music didactics of an ancient, ancestral culture. While writing it, I realized that in the oral traditions from the three ancestral cultures I studied (Andean, Japanese and Vaishnava cultures), there are two different forms of transmission practices, because of two approaches: the ethno-musicological approach and the popular or folk music approach. The ethno-musicologist seeks to transmit a traditional way of performing (sonority) in a certain culture through scientific discourse.


The popular or folk music approach is a practice that combines elements of the traditional music with an aesthetic taste coming from elements of Western European music. This is characterized by a national and political identity, with the “show” as a dimension.


Comparison of didactic characteristics between oral and written traditions


These differences led me to conclude that a tradition is a historical construct. It is not pure nor is it a museum object, because all cultures are, to some degree, pervaded by cultural elements from other cultures. Tradition is alive and in constant transformation. Then what do we learn from the two approaches ethnomusicological and popular/folk music? We learn that the oral tradition of these ancestral cultures (Andean, Japanese and India) manifests something alive precisely because of certain characteristics of its transmission practices. I compared these characteristics with the practices I did as a student at Sweden’s music conservatory:


1.- The adoption of a double function by the student as performer and artisan (luthier), a direct relationship between the fabrication of the instrument and the teaching contents of sound of the instrument. We emphasize that this characteristic does not normally exist in the teaching of the conservatories that I frequented


2.- The use of dance, wherein the instrumentalist’s steps are synchronized with the rhythm of the melody, is a simultaneous double function by the agent, who is the dancer and the instrumentalist. In the conservatories, the instrumentalists and singers do not dance.


3.- “Learn to speak before reading”: first make music and only then understand how it is made. In the conservatories I frequented, the teacher begins with the systematic work of playing: position of the instrument, breathing, fingering, vibrato, etc. This is called the elementarization of knowledge.




Every musician and music teacher should observe other ways of “doing” because the mentioned practices will lead to the purpose of the heart of music which is the cultivation of human and spiritual values and this is the task of Human rights education.


Human rights education contributes attitudes and behaviors to defend and transmit dignity, respect, justice, democracy, and rule of law by ensuring, protecting, and guiding every individual’s right to the most essential needs for human existence. According to the mentioned oral traditions in South America, Japan and India, the sound of music is considered the most powerful tool to elevate human consciousness and access our inner state of unity, equanimity, and equality. This inner state provides the powerful vision that every living being is equal to ourselves, as a part of a unique family.


Individuals with this inner state are kind-hearted to all human beings (predisposed to forgive) and dedicated to others’ welfare, because they feel satisfied « within » by a peaceful and joyful inner spirit. This inner state of intense joy in unity/equality is the essential emotional quality of music that creates a bridge between metaphysics (as the study of the ultimate reality) and aesthetics (beauty and love). Music is not just an aesthetic pleasure but a bridge from the material to the spiritual. In this way, an individual is able to love all sentient beings, not just human beings, as one loves oneself.

This vision of life with the mentioned outcomes would also bring amazing environmental benefits that contribute to the promotion of the achievement of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Through my life’s cross-cultural translation across music cultures in Eastern and Western traditions, I have developed an innovative approach in teaching/learning processes (and music contents), along with an artistic expression that transcends historical issues. The original artistic expression manifested in the three oral traditions from South America, Japan and India, portrays an essential advancement of human consciousness from the gross to the subtle, from the material to the spiritual, and from the temporal to the eternal. Through this integrative approach, it is demonstrated that art is a force with the power to express the individual’s deep hankering for happiness, rooted in aesthetics. Therefore, aesthetics is at the heart of human existence and is the nature of the ultimate reality of life, the original source of our inner state of unity/equality. The aesthetics in these three oral traditions is in the heart itself of human existence and is the nature in human rights values: interculturality, creative empathy, peace, building character through the full development of the personality, equality and nondiscrimination for indigenous people, gender equality & woman’s rights etc.




Our task as artists is to elevate people’s consciousness to the point of their accessing an inner state of unity/equality on a spiritual level, which satisfies their hankering for truth, happiness, and peace and makes them aware of and capable of realizing their full potential. We accomplish this using music/music education. To be human means more than survival on a material level. The essence of humanity is in the connection that we share with all beings on the spiritual level. To truly achieve access to and protection through human rights education, we need to address both material and spiritual development.


As stated before, music is the most powerful and unique tool for human rights education, to elevate people’s consciousness when it is performed and guided by artists, educators, researchers, innovators who are qualified to access this inner state of unity on the spiritual level. When our hearts are deeply touched by these sorts of artists, we become very much interested in what they think or feel or want to say. The message of human rights education urgently needs to be endorsed and carried by these transcendental artists, transcendental educators, transcendental researchers, transcendental innovators who will educate people to sing and perform in a transcendental symphony of unity.


Life is an art to live, and a work of art is the expression of our personality as a whole, of our sensibility and ability.

Wings to Learn Academy

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