Baylor Fulbright Scholar Shines Abroad

By: Jenna DeWitt

After more than a year of work on application forms, essays, recommendations, language study and research, Robert Moore received word that his dream of going to Nepal would be realized. He was a Fulbright Scholar.

Through the study and research grant from the U.S. State Department, Moore was able to travel to Nepal for the 2009-2010 school year. One of just 20 Baylor students in the program’s history to go abroad with the Fulbright, Moore was based in the country’s capital, Kathmandu.

Elizabeth Vardaman, associate dean of special academic projects, played an instrumental role in helping Moore with his application as the coordinator of the Fulbright program at Baylor.

“Many students don’t realize that far ahead how much work it is going to take,” Vardaman said. “Robert seemed to understand from the beginning that he would have to polish and draw on lots of resources and that it was going to take a number of months to present himself and his ideas well enough to have the Fulbright pay enough attention to him.”

Moore faced challenges along the way. In order to win, he had to prove he was willing to adapt to Nepali life. This came through learning the language with a private tutor, a graduate student at Baylor. He would also need to prove that he knew enough about ethnomusicology, the study of a culture’s music, to conduct research successfully.

When Dr. Alfredo Colman, assistant professor of music, joined the School of Music faculty in the fall of 2007 as Baylor’s only ethnomusicologist, Moore had already been on a research trip to Guatemala with anthropology professor Dr. Garrett Cook. At the time, Moore was between his sophomore and junior years, already combining his love of music with his anthropology minor by collecting recordings of Mayan music to help preserve a dying culture. Now, with a professional in the discipline at Baylor, Moore was able to gain the training he would need as an ethnomusicologist.

“He was in the Music in World Cultures class, one of the first classes I taught,” Colman said of his first encounters with Moore. “He was a music education major, but he was very excited about ethnomusicology. He was a great student always offering good insights, not only about the music but about the ways music may communicate certain meanings.”

Colman said Moore was later part of a small graduate seminar in ethnomusicology where they discussed social theory, the practice of ethnomusicology and the history of the discipline.

“Robert was able to offer very thought-provoking comments and ideas,” Colman said. “It was a good experience for the students, and for me too.”

These preparations helped Moore to accomplish his goal of learning about Nepali life, but he also gave back to the community in Kathmandu by bringing in ideas for their music education system. He said one of his proudest accomplishments with the program was teaching a Nepali university class of vocal music students to read written music and perform four-part harmony on a traditional Nepali tune. Moore led the class through many “firsts” as they experienced performing in concert, singing in harmony, reading written music and singing in Latin for the first time.

“They learned very quickly,” he said. “They loved it. They were motivated the entire time. They have a very strong tradition of classical Raaga music on the subcontinent, and these students were very talented musicians, at school to learn the intricacies of their own classical system.  They hear Western music on the radio sometimes and like it, but this afforded them their first real opportunity to learn how it’s done.  I’m very proud of those students.”

Moore played his primary instrument, the clarinet, with musicians in the community and took sitar lessons. His success grew as he was featured in a local festival and appeared on television.

He also wrote and self-published a book about the “madal,” a hand drum seen as a Nepali national symbol, with internationally acclaimed drummer and music educator Sanuraja Maharjan. The book, titled “Madal: learn the most popular drum of Nepal,” details the history, music, construction and methods for playing the folk instrument.

As he demonstrated how to play the drum, Colman explained the high level of Moore’s accomplishment in writing the book.

“It is organology, the study of instruments, but also a how-to,” Colman said while tapping on the drum to demonstrate its use. “It’s a wonderful book with music, daily exercises, photographs, how to play it, how to improvise on the madal. He actually brought me this small madal. The sound is very similar to a drum from India.”

Vardaman said Moore’s book is a valuable cultural exchange between Nepal and the United States, fulfilling the purpose of the Fulbright.

“He not only took us to them, but he brought out a book,” Vardaman said. “Fulbright loves it when, at the end of an award period, the student brings back some aspect of the culture that enriches our culture and Robert truly did that.”

The country, located between China and India, is dramatically diverse in its ethnic groups, climate, languages and animal life. Moore said this diversity makes developing a national identity difficult for the country’s government.

“Nepal has many ethnic groups, each with their own language, music, lifestyle, dress, geographic area, food, history, etc.,” Moore said. “While in Nepal, I had many friends who were of the Newari culture (the original inhabitants of Kathmandu), and I became more and more interested in it as I learned more about it, experienced Newari festivals, ate Newari food, played Newari music and spent time with Newaris.”

Colman said that this ethnic medley leads to a large variation in the music of the country.

“Since Nepal is a cultural crossroads, it has been heavily influenced by music coming from the surrounding regions and countries,” Colman said. “It won’t be uncommon to have sitar music, tabla being played [and] the influence of Hindustani music, for instance.”

Perhaps the most public effect Moore had on the country was the founding of the Nepal Music Educators’ Society. It all began when Moore led a workshop for elementary-level music educators. Through the workshop, he saw that the teachers from all areas of Kathmandu benefitted greatly from meeting to exchange classroom techniques, announce upcoming musical events and discuss the challenges that they all had in common.

One of these challenges is the lack of a program to transform home-trained musicians into music educators in schools. Now part of the International Society for Music Educators, the group’s teachers hope to create a program that could address the creation of a training program, Moore said. The society will send two of its teachers to the International Society for Music Educators conference in August. The group raised the money for teachers’ trip to Beijing with help from the Baylor School of Music.

“It showed me that it only takes one person to network, get projects going, and make visible changes that last, and it showed me that I can do it,” Moore said. “I’m incredibly proud of these teachers.”

Moore’s former professors expressed much of the same admiration toward him.

“He is a good, kind and approachable individual,” Colman said. “He is a fantastic musician and teacher and that is a very curious, enthusiastic researcher and scholar. One of the things I appreciate about Robert is that he works very hard to be able to do what he wants to do, no matter the challenges that he may be facing.”

Moore’s ability to tackle challenges, like learning a new language, writing a book, organizing a professional organization and adjusting to a new culture, brought him closer to the realization that the basic needs of Nepalis were very close to the basic needs of Americans. According to Moore, the satisfaction of these needs must be different in Nepal than the ways of the Western world because of the Nepali social environment. This makes addressing their concerns difficult, if not impossible.

“These problems of opportunity are complex, without any obvious solutions, but the benefits of solving them could be intense and widespread,” Moore said. “I learned that people need to be there to help solve those problems — Nepalis and foreigners — because Nepalis are good people, and to ignore them is to purposefully keep them struggling.”

Moore said that the experience made the struggles of a developing country more personal for him as he watched the country adapt to participate in global society, “yet still preserve traditions and culture.”

This balance is key to the work of an ethnomusicologist, whose job is not only to research, but also to be an ambassador from a very different lifestyle.

“In addition to being very interested in Nepali music, he also shared with Nepali musicians and audiences classical music and other American musical genres,” Colman said. “In that way he really engaged in a true musical conversation with musicians. That’s another way to not just create trust but a sense of community with this other community. Music serves as a tool to communicate.”

Americans teaching about U.S. culture in other countries can often be misperceived as – or accused of – contaminating another culture, but this is not always true, according to Moore.

“I think if they want to know, it’s my responsibility to teach them,” he said. “If a Nepali guy came to the U.S. and I asked him questions about Nepali music, it would be supremely irritating if he wouldn’t answer them because of what he thought it might do to the culture of the U.S.”

Colman said that his advice to avoid this misperception is to “take your time, develop strong friendship ties, open your eyes and your ears, take a good look and listen to the sounds you have around and what people say.”

The ability to engage in open cultural dialogue is also a valued trait that the Fulbright committee looks for when students apply for the award. Vardaman said she hopes her students come back after their year of study with “a deep desire to continue to relate to people who are different than themselves and find ways to love each other.”

“Of course, in ethnomusicology, you are going to be drawn to the stories of the world and the music of the world,” she said. “Once you’ve been in a situation like this, when you come back, you know more about yourself and know more about, in a way ironically, your own country because you saw another country.”

Moore, now an assistant music teacher at the American International School of Muscat in Oman, teaches band classes for 6th to 12th grade students. The country is still strikingly different than America – for example, Skype is illegal – but is more of a “modern country” than Nepal. This new adventure for him is also very different from Nepal, however.

“It has an entirely different history, set of values, religion, climate- seemingly everything,” he said.

Moore’s flexibility is just one quality that led to his success in the Fulbright program, according to Vardaman. The program doubled the amount of the awards allotted for Nepal for the 2011-2012 program, a success she attributes to students like Moore.

“I know that the American embassy in Nepal would have been very aware of what he did,” she said. “I don’t think they would have too many as outstanding as Robert. He was quiet and thoughtful, but as a musician, you could see that he had many interests. His curiosity was beautiful.”