Music, a universal language for integrating

Delta nr 13, April 2006

Making new friends can be a lot easier if you have a mutual passion to discuss and share with others. That's why for those who love music, joining the TU's Krashna Musika company is a great way to have fun, meet new people and even learn some Dutch. It's no wonder that the number of foreign student members of Krashna Musika is on the rise.

With around 250 members, Delft's student music company Krashna Musika has an orchestra and a choir, as well as jazz, Big Band and chamber music sections. The number of international students within the company is on the up, too, especially in the choir, although foreign student numbers still only account for a relatively small percentage of the total members. But those foreigners who are members say they love every minute of making music in Delft.

Barbara Knechtlova, a Geomatics student from the Czech Republic, joined Krashna Musika's choir last September. "I sing in three choirs at home in the Czech Republic, so I of course wanted to join one here as well," she says. "Music means so much to me. I really don't think I could survive without it in my life!"

Knechtlova says she joined the choir at the TU because she wanted to do something that would help her relax after the long hours of academic study, and that this is exactly what she has found at Krashna. "I have met a lot of new people here by singing in the choir and it definitely is a great way to unwind after a long, hard day."

Swiss aerospace engineering student Daniel Ruflin, who plays violin in the orchestra, feels the same way about his membership in Krashna. "The student music company has helped me make new friends and gotten me invited to lots of parties," he says. "It's super." Ruflin says one of the main reasons he joined the orchestra was to get in touch with Dutch people, which is often very difficult for foreign students who are often in Delft for just a year or two.

The same reasoning holds true for South African Annemarie van der Westhuysen, whose husband is doing a PhD at the TU. "I'm enjoying the experience very much," says Van der Westhuysen, who plays the cello in the orchestra. "People are generally very open and friendly at Krashna, and I think that they are more so than the average Dutch person. Maybe that's because making music together already creates a sense of unity and inclusion. After all, music is a universal language."

Golden thread

During the orchestra's rehearsals, Dutch is the main language spoken. However, according to Krashna Musika board member, Tjark van Staveren, instructions or remarks are occasionally explained in English, to make sure all musicians are on the same page, as it were. "In the group's PR material and in our communications with our members, we certainly take into account that we have quite a few non-Dutch speaking members," he says. But in general the conductor or choirmaster communicates in Dutch.

For Van der Westhuysen, that isn't a real problem, because her native language, 'Afrikaans', the language of South Africa, is an adapted version of Dutch. On occasions, her knowledge of Afrikaans also leads to some funny situations. "In Afrikaans, for instance, the word 'sies' means 'yuck' in English and is an expression of disgust," she says. "At one point in rehearsals, the conductor wanted a certain group to play a C sharp, which in Dutch is pronounced as 'sies'. The conductor began shouting, 'Sies, sies, sies!', which was very funny, but only for me." Generally though, Van der Westhuysen says that having the rehearsals in Dutch is actually a good thing, as it helps encourage foreigners to integrate by learning some Dutch.

Knechtlova has indeed taken up Dutch lessons and finds that the choir rehearsals offer her a great opportunity to practice her Dutch. "Sometimes I will miss the meaning of a joke," she says, "but in general I'm starting to understand everything that is said."

The language learning even occasionally works in reverse. Recently, the choir began singing a piece by Czech composer Janacek, which gave Knechtlova the opportunity to teach the other choir members how to pronounce Czech properly. "And I have to say that the people in the choir were actually quite good at it," she says.

After rehearsals, the group's members usually make an effort to speak in English to those members who do not speak Dutch, so that not knowing the language doesn't stand in the way of socializing. It can however be difficult sometimes to know where the conductor wants you to start, as Ruflin points out: "It's always good to have a Dutch person sitting next to me who can tell me where we are in a piece."

Ruflin, Knechtlova and Van der Westhuysen are all passionate about music, but their preferences vary. Ruflin for instance is crazy about house music - something you wouldn't necessary expect from a classical violinist. While Van der Westhuysen really loves Bach. "You can listen to Bach for hours," she says. "It just weaves a golden thread through your day."

For anyone who feels passionately about music, whether they're accomplished musicians or simply interested amateurs, Krashna Musika is always eager to meet potential new members. Just drop by the board's office at the Cultural Centre during office hours. The orchestra, choir (no previous singing experience is required) and Big Band require an audition, but those who want to be part of the jazz or chamber music sections can join without auditioning.

Yearly membership fees for Krashna Musika range from 12.50 to 54.50 euro.


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