In Nepal, lift spirits through music

Story highlights

  • Anna Stirr: Massive earthquake is a devastating blow to Nepal, and it will take years to recover
  • Nepal's musical traditions can help buoy the resilience and spirit necessary to rebuild

Anna Stirr is assistant professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is a musician and ethnomusicologist specializing in Himalayan performance and cultures. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Living on the fault line that has produced the world's highest mountain ranges, the people of Nepal knew there would be a major earthquake someday.

Yet last Saturday's heartbreaking losses still come as a devastating blow, from which Nepal will take years to recover. As the world pitches in to help with immediate relief, thoughts are also beginning to turn to long-term recovery. In the aftermath of the quake, Nepal's musical traditions can help buoy the resilience and spirit necessary to rebuild the country.
Anna Stirr
When they could finally reach each other by phone, flutist Nirmal Singh related his experience of the earthquake to his uncle in Hawaii, who relayed his story to me. Nirmal was performing at a Hindu devotional gathering when the ground began to shake.
    After a moment of shock, he grabbed the bag holding all his bamboo flutes and fled the stage, seeking shelter in the open with other musicians and audience members alike. They watched helplessly as Kathmandu crumbled around them. In that moment, they felt their hearts crumble, too.

    One day, he will perform music again

    Several days later, Nirmal remains in a makeshift camp near the performance site, reeling from the earthquake's devastation. He is trying to get up the courage to walk the five or so miles to his apartment, thinking of the devastation he will pass along the way, and fearful of what he might find when he gets home. Heavy-hearted, he doesn't feel like playing music yet. But he takes comfort in listening.
    Nirmal comes from a family of flutists and flute makers. His uncle, fellow flutist and flute maker Ram Kumar Singh, told me he believes music and art will be necessary for the healing process. "When we see and hear Nepali cultural sounds and images, it creates a mood for the victims to be more positive and to unite. Folk music and arts are the medium that creates a feeling of humanity. It totally ignores differences like ethnicity and political parties."