Peace Award for a Woman of the World
If you'd like to teach the world to sing, take a look at a Berklee student who's actually done it. Ayumi Ueda wanted to use music to convey a message of cross-cultural peace—literal and figurative harmony.
Ueda, a voice principal and professional music major, made it happen. In October 2008, she premiered Women of the World, a choir that now has 50 members representing 46 countries. The group has performed at Haiti benefits and a Women's Musicians Network show, among other events; the goal is not to promote a specific cause but to inspire listeners to work on their own social justice projects.
This spring brought proof that her message resonated at Berklee. On March 4, Ueda won the college's first Walter W. Harp Liberal Arts Music and Society Award. It honors a graduating student who epitomizes the values and work of Walter Harp, a longtime liberal arts professor who drew connections between music and social issues, and its role in fighting injustice, until his death in 2005. Supporters can contribute at berklee.edu/giving.
"Walter was passionately involved in the field of music and society, in getting people to think about old things in new ways, and in using art to transform people's lives and to effect social change," said Peter Gardner, a professor in the Liberal Arts Department, at the Professional Education Division student award convocation.
Women of the World grew naturally from Ueda's original interest in the college. "I came to Berklee to play music with people from all over the world," she said. Once she arrived, she found herself fascinated by the differences and similarities.
The repertoire is as world-spanning as the personnel, who learn about the cultures as they learn the music. Even when they're singing in Bulgarian, which no one in the group speaks, "Our message is that we can work together with a common language that is the music," Ueda said.
Christiane Karam, an unofficial advisor for Women of the World, was one of the faculty members who nominated Ueda. "She's absolutely fantastic," Karam said—committed, mature, and talented, with contagious enthusiasm. Despite Ueda's own talents, "It's never about her. It's always about the community and the world and what she can bring. . . it's really moving."
Fortunately for the Berklee community and the world at large, Ueda's far from alone, said Karam. She teaches a class called Songs for Social Change. "I work with a lot of students who demonstrate those qualities and have those visions and really work hard toward a cause." The event also recognized student nominees Ellen Angelico, Katherine Bilinsik, Hannah Barakat, I-Yun Chung, LaToya Devonish, Annie Dillon, Ryan Edwards, Lisa Forkish, Valentina Mazzoleni, Shea Rose, David Scandurra, and Natalie Weaver.
"This award reminded me that I'm on the right path and I should keep going," Ueda said. After she graduates in May, she plans to keep performing with Women of the World—hopefully at Carnegie Hall next spring. She might also cross another continent herself. "I'm interested in sound healing work and there's a lot of good schools in California," she said. Whether in a huge concert hall or one-on-one, "I really believe in the power of music to heal."