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Anne Barry celebrates the College's international identities through song

anne barry
April 08, 2024
Meghan O'Toole

Lake Forest College's campus is unique. Despite being a community of just under 1,800 students, over 120 nationalities are represented in the student, faculty, and staff bodies. Associate Professor of Music Anne Barry is determined to celebrate each of these identities through something they all share—music.

Barry, who originally hails from Ireland, was struck by the diversity of countries represented on campus when she first interviewed for her position in 2015. “As I was going to be someone to contribute to that demographic, it was very reassuring,” she said. “I felt represented.”

Barry is focusing her project on collecting children's songs not only because they are accessible and easy to recall, but also because participants usually have emotional connections to the songs they can share.

“I have students in the choirs from different parts of the world, and I love talking to them and learning about why they came here," she explained. “We have a very unique campus, and it's a pleasure to embark on a project that highlights this distinction.”

Barry's interest in showcasing music from different parts of the world stems from her curiosity about the world. As an avid traveler, she is eager to connect with other cultures.

When her students sing choral pieces in different languages, she connects with the College's Office of Intercultural Relations (OIR) to invite a student whose country the music represents to act as a culture bearer for the piece. These students can visit rehearsals, help with pronunciation, and share cultural context about the piece.

Barry offered an example of this situation: “We recently performed a piece called 'Ta Na Solbici' by Slovenian composer Samo Vovk. I reached out to a student, Pavel Kerkoc '26, who very kindly went through the text with me first, and then came to the choir and shared context for the song. He had spoken to his family and found out more about the region the piece was from as well as the meaning of the song. His knowledge helped us get beyond the translation of the lyrics. To have someone who can add to our learning in a culturally respectful way is such a great resource.”

Barry, who is also the Chair of Music Education, is motivated by local elementary music teachers who are eager to share multicultural perspectives with their students.

“I am constantly being asked about Irish music and songs for children. These teachers are hungry for songs from abroad, but they want resources that are authentic and can be used appropriately,” she explained. “Increasingly nowadays, teachers tend to go to culture bearers as a source for songs or to help them with cultural context and pronunciation. I shared this project idea with some teachers and asked if it would be a benefit if I collected songs from our campus, and they were thrilled by the prospect.”

When collecting songs, Barry requests a recording of the song, the text in the original language, a translation of the lyrics, and a transliteration. Barry also requests that participants share context for the songs and four to five interesting cultural facts about their country.

The responses from Lake Forest College students Barry has received have gone beyond her expectations. Many of the submissions include emotional weight, such as "Bana ba sekolo," a children's song from Botswana shared by One Kenosi '26 along with a recording sung by her mother.

“Students have been remarkable in their responses and their enthusiasm in wanting to share something about their own countries,” Barry said. 

So far, Barry has collected songs from approximately a third of the countries represented on campus.

“Many students have commented that they are glad to have the opportunity to contribute to something that highlights and celebrates our cultural diversity at a time when this is a challenge in some spaces,” Barry shared.

Overall, Barry is excited to continue working on the project.

“It's a really joyful project,” she said. “The students have shared some of the sweetest and most fun songs.”

Barry wishes to thank the students who have contributed to this project so far. She will be reaching out to faculty and staff soon, and she looks forward to compiling this body of music that celebrates Lake Forest College's diversity and uniquity. 

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