Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at music’s effect on our everyday lives. With me today is Trevor Schuh, the international coordinator for ethnomusicology in the arts for SIL International. SIL is a global faith based nonprofit that works with local communities around the world to develop language solutions that expand possibilities for a better life. Trevor holds a master of arts degree in world arts from Dallas International University. He has served as a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators for 13 years, which included time spent as an art specialist for indigenous language communities in Brazil. Trevor is a musician. In addition to his work with SIL, he also is a church worship director. He is married to a musician. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music.
Trevor Schuh: [00:00:57] Thank you so much for having me.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:59] Trevor, could you start by explaining the term ethno arts for listeners who aren’t familiar and then explain how and why ethno arts has become a part of sales work? And Wycliffe Bible translation work and maybe somewhere in there you can explain how SIL and Wycliffe are related.
Trevor Schuh: [00:01:18] Yeah, sure. Ethno arts is is a term that has kind of come out of what has more commonly been known as ethnomusicology. It’s kind of an expansion of that. So ethnos being the root of that. I’m talking about people or cultures and then musicology. Obviously with music, we are expanding that definition. Instead of just studying music around the world in its social and cultural context, we are expanding that to include all of the possible art forms that we see around the world. In any community. We primarily work with minority communities and we do have an arts has a kind of a historical and theological current that encourages encourages engagement with minority communities, especially like ethno linguistic. So communities, that’s all speak the same language.
Mindy Peterson: [00:02:11] Ok, do you find in those types of communities that the lines are blurred a little bit more between the different genres of arts?
Trevor Schuh: [00:02:18] Absolutely, yes. And so when we talk about the different genres, as we talk about music, if you look at historically ethnomusicology, if you’re if you’re analyzing if you’re researching the music of a culture, rarely would you see music that doesn’t include other genres or other other forms of art. You’re going to have some movement. You’re going to have probably some visual art, whether it’s costuming or body art or making instruments in a in a beautiful way to that community. The lines are always blurred between those, which is it’s very fascinating to just explore and see that we can’t just put a box on everything.
Mindy Peterson: [00:02:58] Yeah. Is it really less common to put a box around things? And we and you really just see that more in the U.S. or westernized westernised countries? You know,
Trevor Schuh: [00:03:10] I think it’s probably an academic thing that we do to put a box on it. When you see a choir standing in a very formal way, that’s not very common within cultures around the world. A lot of what we’re talking about is artistic communication genres. It’s not a performance by itself. It has so much more going on when you see a song performed, when you it might be linked to the social life that might be linked to a ritual or something coming of age stories. There’s a lot of arts associated with that or worship practices, things like that. It’s rarely just a performance for performance sake.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:51] Ok, so it really is much more embedded in a communication function than entertainment.
Trevor Schuh: [00:03:58] Absolutely.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:00] Ok, and I imagine that’s part of why ethno arts became a part of sales work. Tell us about that kind of evolution of how ethno arts became a part of your work.
Trevor Schuh: [00:04:11] Yeah. So I know you you mentioned you wanted me to maybe talk a little bit about the relationship between SIL and Wycliffe. So heard of Wycliffe Bible translators. I am a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA. It’s kind of the Sending Missions Agency. SIL is, as you said, an organization that that really works with local communities around the world to develop language solutions and a lot of things regarding language specifically. And so some people like to say Wickliffe is kind of the sending organization. SIL is the activity. It’s not entirely fair to say that anymore. They’re separate organizations, but we’re partners in a lot of different things and partners with local organizations. Communities SIL is very, very global and looks different in every context, but I work with international and so we’re focused on kind of the the global effects of what we’re doing and making sure our people are our resource throughout the world.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:13] Ok, so. So you’re with both SIL?
Trevor Schuh: [00:05:16] Yes. Yes.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:17] OK, at what point did either of those organizations come to think, boy, communication is much more than language and we could probably be a lot more effective by including some of the arts in what we’re doing?
Trevor Schuh: [00:05:29] Yeah, we have sort of a long ish history. I think back in the 1960s. There are two people, Viter Chenowith and Tom Avery, Vital was working in Papua New Guinea and Tom was working in Brazil. And I think they sort of separately as ethnomusicologists started to really try to integrate everything that we were doing as an organization and say there’s more going on here than just the language. Language includes communication and other forms, but that’s taking a very long time because it was only a few people who understood that. And now in the past, I would say 20 years, there’s been a huge shift as we’re getting more and more people familiar with the ways that when we’re doing translation work or we’re working with literacy or community development, education, multilingual education, we can really enhance that kind of language work. Traditionally, if we expand our definition of what language is or what communication is and if we include the local forms of, say, storytelling, even in education, storytelling sometimes in many cultures will include songs not that dissimilar from from what it is in our culture. Songs can really help children understand and memorize and retain information, and we see different forms of that throughout the world. So we’re trying to keep expanding and keep expanding our definition of really what language includes. And communication genres can include artistic ones as well, because it’s a way that people communicate all throughout the world. Mm hmm.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:08] Can you give us an example of what this looks like when it’s actually taking place, including the ethno arts in, say, Bible translation?
Trevor Schuh: [00:07:16] Yeah, where I worked in Brazil, we they had been trying for 50 years. They still are in the midst of a difficult situation trying to translate scripture. And they’ve only gotten about half of the New Testament portions of the Old Testament done and hadn’t seen a lot of community transformation, because a lot of the things when when you translate the Bible into a culture, a community that literacy, they’re not literacy based. They’re having to learn how to read because their language hasn’t been written down. And this is very common in minority cultures right now. It can take a very long time for people to get the actual message. But when you start to use the message that’s been translated in a cultural form, that makes sense to them, that is sounds and looks and feels like their everyday communication. That’s when people will get interested. They’ll get excited. So, for example, I’ve seen where just having a printed out information, whether it’s a Bible translation or literacy materials, if you just have it printed out with words, the local leadership was really wary of that. They had they had seen the government or, you know, other other difficult things happened in the past because they were forced or coerced or something into something in written form that they didn’t agree to or they didn’t understand fully. So they were really wary of that. But if you had that same scripture done in audio form or if you had songs and were playing those, nobody was wary of it. They were curious. They wanted to hear it. They wanted to to engage with it. They wanted to know what the message was. They wanted to maybe see a video about it as as now technology is everywhere. If you can do things in formats that are exciting and interesting, you’re going to get the message across a lot clearer.
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:11] Mm hmm. Well, I saw somewhere that some cultures have so many different genres and some of the genres are very specific to storytelling or it’s a genre that’s only used for a certain age demographic or it’s only used for women. Tell us about some of those. Yeah. Uses of genres and realities of genres that we’re unfamiliar with here.
Trevor Schuh: [00:09:33] Yeah, there are a lot of cultures where depending on your gender, you’re allowed to or not allowed to work with certain instruments or genres that have gone back for hundreds or thousands of years. The most familiar to me was where I was working. The women were prohibited from seeing certain instruments and there was a whole law around that, that back in the day, an uprising. And the women stole all the flutes from the men and now the men have taken them back and they’re not allowed to do it or they’re they’ll be punished. And there are a lot of a lot of really interesting things just depending on your culture, that by your gender or your age, as you were saying, there was a prohibition in Papua New Guinea that Viter Chenowith had come across. But it took a long time to figure out why the the new believers were uncomfortable with using a certain genre in the church. And they said, we can’t use that. There’s no way we could use that. It is linked to our old spirits. We cannot use this as they were trying to create new songs, as they were trying to really enhance the worship life of the church. And they found eventually they said, what if we take out this one red feather from the headdresses? And they said, oh, well, then of course we could use it. There would be no problem. So there was one tiny thing, this red feather. But but they hadn’t recognized that if they got rid of that one element, they would be releasing their own culture. They would be releasing that that affiliation that was so negative. And they could thrive with that genre moving forward and recreate or make a new genre, essentially.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:09] Wow. Well, and I can imagine if a culture has a genre that specific for storytelling, that would be hugely vital to know if you’re communicating the Bible and translating the Bible, because that would be a perfect medium for some of those Bible stories of Noah and the flood or the Tower of Babel or even the story of Jesus Christ. Absolutely. Yeah. So in terms of using these ethno arts to communicate the Bible to other communities, is it mainly done live in person in the moment or are these different? I don’t want to say performances, but like, how are they replicable? Are they videoed and then shared? You know, how do you replicate that without having somebody do it right there, live in person all the time? Isn’t realistic.
Trevor Schuh: [00:12:00] Yeah. You ask really good questions. This is something that we run into all the time. It depends completely on the community that you’re talking about. I think nowadays technology is so prevalent, it’s not everywhere, obviously. But any time that we can capture something by video with high quality audio, we can we can retell the same story over and over. It’s a great thing, but it might not be as impactful. So a lot of times we will see what the you know, we’re always partnering with the community and saying what would work for you? What does your community need? How would you communicate? How would you replicate? How would you embrace newness and rejoice in that and keep it going? We want it to be sustainable. We want it to be something that we don’t just do one time and then expect that it’s going to keep being done. And so sometimes that means that we’re going to coordinate some sort of, you know, artistic creation workshop, whether that’s a songwriting workshop or dramas or a radio program. And then and then hopefully that will will continue. But sometimes we’ll do we’ll do competitions and say we really want the best poets to come out or the best of this genre to come out. We want to see what what the best of the best have to offer and maybe we’ll have a theme and encourage them to, you know, have have prizes, have an incentive that they can give their absolute best and then have the community vote on that, whatever the community wants to do. And that may or may not include recording and then distributing technology is is so interesting because not that long ago you were talking about VHS or cassettes or something. You know, how do we how do we have something that’s rechargeable in the middle of the jungle? And now almost everybody has a cell phone and a smartphone and you’re able to download things when you’re in in a city or a jump town and then go back to your village and you can you can keep charging your phone. And it’s remarkable how accessible things are now. And that’s an amazing thing. It’s it’s a very distracting thing, too. But hopefully we can utilize technology well to to keep moving forward with what the communities themselves want to do in terms of new creation.
Mindy Peterson: [00:14:18] Yeah, well, it’s like any other tool. You can either use it to your benefit or you can it can be a bad slave master or a civil servant, you know, depending on how you utilize it. Right. One thing that is neat about Wycliffe and ISIL are doing with the AFN is not just the Bible translation, but providing a way for minority communities to worship and praise God and communicate with God in their heart language. So instead of moving into these communities and saying, OK, this is the Presbyterian hymnbook that we use on the East Coast of the United States, and we’re going to teach you these hymns. Yes. Teaching people to. Worship God and communicate with God and experience God in their own language, talk to us a little bit about how the ethanol plants are involved in that.
Trevor Schuh: [00:15:08] Yeah, that’s a really good point. And it’s it comes up in our communication quite often, especially with churches saying, well, why can’t we just translate? Why can’t we just use what’s already been done and then translate the words? And really there is a lot of unlearning or deconstructing what’s been done in the past in communities that have maybe had a missionary presence for a long time. And it’s not that
Mindy Peterson: [00:15:32] Used to be the way things were done.
Trevor Schuh: [00:15:34] Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And it was it wasn’t out of a bad spirit. It was about we don’t really know what to do. So this is all that we have. This is what we know. And so as we’re realizing more and more music is not a universal language. And that’s something that I know that I’ve been told most of my life. Music is an international language. If you just play music, people will be they will be moved in the same way no matter what their cultural background is. And that’s simply not true. Music is certainly a universal phenomenon. Every community in the world uses music and arts. This, again, can be expanded to all of the arts. It looks very, very different depending on where you are. And it speaks to people very, very differently, depending on how they grew up. Even if you’re from a certain community, if you didn’t listen to a certain music or you didn’t attend certain cultural festivals, those types of things won’t speak to you as an adult. The same way someone singing a lullaby that your mother saying to you when you were a baby will. And so finding those cultural things, finding just exploring and being curious and asking questions and just really looking into what is it that the people that we’re trying to love and serve and help in any way, what can we do to understand them better? How can they teach us? How can they show us the beauty of their culture? Because that’s just really important to to keep bringing it back to. I’m not doing something for you. I’m just hoping to cause a spark, something creative, something new, something amazing that you can do that would benefit your community, hopefully. Mhm.
Mindy Peterson: [00:17:10] Well one thing that’s neat about what I was doing is it’s not just the Bible translation work and the religious based work, but it’s about making people’s lives better all the way around. Yeah. So there’s, there’s also ways that I was involved in helping communities heal from trauma that goes along with war and trafficking and other traumatic realities, and also just how ethno arts can be used in promoting peace and justice and safety. So talk to us a little bit about some of the those efforts that I was involved in that they utilized the ethno arts in.
Trevor Schuh: [00:17:49] Yes. Yeah. This year, specifically with with covid and how that’s been changing the world. We have definitely been involved in helping communities process and helping them flourish in the midst of the difficulties. And so we’ve been we’ve been involved in assisting the local language communities to be able to access information that they need. If you don’t have language about how to avoid the virus, how to, you know, whether it’s dist. or masks or washing your hands. Really early on we were involved in just simply I saw a big network with people trying to translate as many possible languages, minority communities around the world, simply the phrase wash your hands so that we could say, OK, anybody who speaks any kind of minority language, let’s get this out there. Let’s see what we can do to to make people hear the message over and over quickly and not wait too long. Artistically, we see a lot of within trauma healing especially. There’s a lot of processing done through the arts and there’s a ton of research on that. And we offer a course called Arts in Trauma Healing. And it’s a it’s a fascinating look into how do we help communities or individuals through healing groups deal with the trauma that they have experienced that they are currently experiencing. One of my favorite interactions and understandings in the past few years was with the Hmong community from Laos. And there’s a big portion of Hmong people that have resettled here where I am in Wisconsin. So for a project for school, I had to learn an art form from somebody individually. And I met this lady who was from Laos, and she had she had been in the war and had gone over to Thailand and was sharing her experience just extremely traumatic, very, very difficult. And an entire genre of needlework needlepoint that was specific to their community transformed while they were in these camps in Thailand and became something called story cloths, where they started to actually. Use their needlepoint to depict the scenes of soldiers coming in and fleeing across the river and the trauma that they experienced, and that was one of the things that just developed really naturally out of there. And it’s been a way for people to process because they couldn’t speak the language.
Trevor Schuh: [00:20:13] They couldn’t really they didn’t have the resources to really process things, but they had their art and they could do it quietly and they could try to make sense of the world and the newness of it all. So how we do things like that, we encourage things like that. We hope that people can find something that works well through the arts, that if you don’t have the words to speak about it, even the lady that I was working with, her name was song. And she said I couldn’t speak with anybody here when I moved here. Thankfully, I was able to move to the States, but I didn’t speak English. No one knew how to communicate with me. So I had to find different ways to process what was going on because I didn’t have those resources.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:52] Wow, that’s incredible. Well, a lot of these communities that you’re working with, they have cultures and ways of communicating through the arts that may be starting to become dormant or be lost because of just the changing in the culture. With you mentioned the prevalence of cell phones and in technology and even in some countries, I read that some things that could be perceived as positive and are positive in a lot of ways, like children becoming involved in a nationalized education program. They’re not working out in the fields with their grandparents and their parents anymore, which is where a lot of that transmission of culture and songs and stories used to take place. So Esselstyn really involved in helping communities kind of come up with solutions to those situations so that the communities can be passing on that oral tradition and those stories and the arts that have been such an important part of their background. And I think in this context, as sales been involved with UNESCO, listeners may be familiar with that. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization seeks to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture. Tell us about sales partnership with UNESCO.
Trevor Schuh: [00:22:15] Yeah, when thinking about this, I know that we’ve been involved in ethno arts just a little bit recently, especially in the educational and cultural side of things. We have partnered with them for a long time, wherever they are looking, wherever we are looking to, to be involved, especially in in education, whether it’s mother tongue education. I know they celebrate specific days or even year, year of the indigenous language or a day of the mother tongue. We celebrate along with them. We are a resource for them and they are a resource for us. It’s an interesting thing because we are hoping to to help preserve we document a lot of things because we’re filled with academics and do a lot of research. And so we provide a lot of information, whether it’s surveying what languages exist, where they are on the scale of Dormont to thriving or if it’s an international language. We’re on the ground, on the field, doing a lot of this this work and hoping to move the the language communities higher on that scale, stronger on that scale. One of the things that we’ve seen, too, is it appears from the data that one of the first things that you’ll start to see lost in in a community before the language itself is completely extinct is that the art forms will start to drop off. Like you were saying, if they stop passing it on to the next generation, that might be one of the first things to go is if those art forms that you learn based on your location, based on if you’re in a village or setting, or if you’re kind of out in the broader majority world. And and so we’re hoping that, you know, we don’t want to suppress anything. We want we want to see cultures flourish. We want to see people continue to use their art and to continue to use their languages. And so we’re definitely on the same path with UNESCO in preserving things and celebrating the really unique art forms around the world. That’s seen a lot of really interesting traditions held up by UNESCO as this is a cultural heritage that is intangible but is really necessary. And so they’ve come up with programs and we’ve come alongside of them to see if we can continue to hold those up and continue to encourage younger people to learn and to have apprenticeships and to create new new things or carry on old traditions so that they don’t lose them while simultaneously gaining access to education and higher education and hopefully, you know, better access to all of the things that every community needs.
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:53] Yeah, well, my husband and I have been really huge fans of Wycliffe for years. And one of the things. Is that we really love and appreciate about them is their collaborative perspective instead of all these different silos, you know, of this is what we do and we don’t interact with anyone else. They’re so collaborative and working with other other groups. I know that Global Doxology Network is another 1G and that SIL partners with. And I think that’s great. How instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, all these different organizations, you know, doing their own thing, they’re working together and hey, we can each be more successful if we work together and collaborate on this. I think that yeah, that’s really great. Tell us real quick about the Sparking Creativity podcast that is starting soon or maybe it just started that
Trevor Schuh: [00:25:43] We have a trailer up. OK, yeah, we we’ve been working on that. We have two episodes being edited. We’re excited about that. And it’s going to be coming out shortly, I would say, in the next two months or so. And it is going to basically be storytelling. We want to tell the stories of ethno arts impact throughout the world. And so we’re gathering stories. We’re collecting whatever we can from our colleagues and trying to tell stories. Maybe we’ll tell old stories that have been told in books in a new way. But we don’t have a lot in an audio or video format. So we said, well, a podcast, everybody’s doing a podcast these days. So I think we can start there and we want to tell stories and do two interviews similar to what you’re doing. And we just want stories to tell the impact and the excitement of the arts. And yeah, it’s all out there except for the actual official first episode, but it’s coming very soon.
Mindy Peterson: [00:26:43] So we’ll keep you posted when it officially launches. And I will update the show notes will do. Well, I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story you can share with us today?
Trevor Schuh: [00:27:00] I do, and I had a few to choose from. This is this is one of the ones that I’ve seen as an aha moment for a lot of people. And I think it was one of my aha moments when I decided to get into this ministry. And there’s there’s a group in Brazil, I didn’t work with them directly, but they’re called the Canela. And there were two missionaries working with them, Bible translators, Jack and Jill PopChips, and they had been with them for about 20 years, had been trying to translate the Bible. And actually I mean, they did it. It was it was fantastic work. And but they struggled with the music. They tried to sing along. They tried to make something new happen, but they couldn’t figure it out. And so when I first heard a clip of the Canalis singing, I with my Western ears immediately thought, wow, this is not what I expected. This is nothing like I’ve ever heard in my life. These must not be the good singers. I mean, there’s no explanation. And so a lot of times now when we talk about this with churches or schools, whatever, we we play the clip and say, what do you think this sounds like? What do you think these lyrics are saying? Does it sound happy? Does it songs and what does it make you feel? And normally people say, oh, it sounds like a funeral dirge or something very sad happened. It’s a it’s a difficult thing. They say, well, maybe it’s just maybe it’s just kids who can’t sing well. And in fact, this was just this was their art form. And it was it’s actually very complex. And it just it’s on the cracks. It’s not on a normal piano, you know, a keyboard. It would be within the cracks that you wouldn’t necessarily notice. It just sounds out of tune, but it’s perfectly in tune. So Tom Avery, one of the forefathers of ethno arts, was brought in and he analyzed it and he put he had a whole software developed in order to analyze the melody and the harmony and figure out what’s allowed, what’s permissible, what’s not. And then he ended up in this situation, which we don’t always recommend. But in this situation, he wrote along with the translator about 20 original songs that were basically scripture in music. They brought them back to the tribe and they played them. And immediately everybody started singing along and harmonizing and improving it and changing the lyrics so that they were a little bit more natural. And it turned into such an amazing, amazing story. So the words of this song are actually it is God’s word that makes us so very happy.
Mindy Peterson: [00:29:41] Interesting that so many people listen to it and immediately thought of a funeral orders.
Trevor Schuh: [00:29:47] Yeah, it’s nothing like anything you’ve ever heard.