Cultural Enrichment in Music City USA

Michaël Rubens is a 2017-2018 Belgian Fulbright student researcher to Yale University. A doctoral student at KU Leuven, his research focuses on productivity analysis and firm dynamics. Below, Michaël discusses his recent attendance at a Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in Nashville.

More than 120 students and scholars from 80 countries are creating their own musical compositions using iPads in a Nashville conference center. As each group shares its masterpiece with the audience, I’m getting fired up by Congolese beats, chill down again with some Caribbean grove, and end up being mesmerized by minimalistic Nordic fusion. Fun fact: none of the participants are professional musicians!

Michael Rubens

What happened? Let’s fast-backward to three days earlier. We’re being welcomed by Mitchell Korn, music professor at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, on a three-day Fulbright Enrichment Seminar with as a main theme ‘Music and Innovation’.

In my view, three main elements made these three days such an awesome experience. First, there were lectures and panel discussions on Nashville’s unique music scene by renowned musicians and scholars. Highlights include a musical history of Nashville by the staff fiddler of the Grand Ole Opry, the longest running radio broadcast in the USA, and a very insightful panel discussion by old and new musicians, both locals and immigrants. The importance of intercultural blending, creativity and hard work were central in Nashville’s musical success and resulted in the creation of new musical styles such as bluegrass. I am convinced these are also the success recipe of the Fulbright program!

Secondly, we did site visits to discover more about the local music scene and economy. I chose to visit the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which jumpstarts new entrepreneurs, many in the music industry, into success. They receive mentorship from experienced and successful entrepreneurs, convince business angels, and can rent out useful facilities which a starting business needs at low prices. All very cool, especially as Nashville has recently been booming economically.

Michael Rubens

Thirdly, we undertook community service projects, very much in line with the Fulbright mission and spirit. Some helped at food banks or social housing projects, but I decided to do gardening and landscaping at the Andrew Jackson Heritage Foundation, the magnificent plantation of the 7 th US president. This was my favorite part of the seminar! Under the supervision of a very authentic supervisor from Southern Alabama, I was in charge with shoveling wood mulch into wheelbarrows, which other Fulbrighters used to repair a road. As I usually spend my days behind a computer screen, it was very rewarding to do some manual labor. And it was of course great to give something back to the local community in return for their truly remarkable Southern hospitality.

Michael Rubens

As I’m writing this blogpost, I’m heading back home to Connecticut. The Fulbrighters’ musical compositions still run through my head. These past three days, I have had the immense joy and privilege to meet people from the entire world (I composed my music with a scholar from the Western Sahara!), and to further discover the USA together. Looking ahead, I am sure that the friendships, music and barbecue smell will forever remain imprinted in my heart and mind!

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.