The Machu Picchu Musician from Missouri

Making Connections

Something I have always understood is the power of making connections. As a musician, I understood early on the importance of community and what wonderful things happen when you get people in the same room. When I started my bachelor’s in music therapy at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, I was looking to making connections to create sustainable music therapy programs in a cross-cultural context. I decided to take this approach, along with my Gilman Scholarship, to a place I had never really believed I would some day arrive in. Cusco, Peru.

How to Measure Success

Before stepping foot in South America, I already had the sense that I would struggle. A lot. Learning a language, adjusting to local norms, and teaching music were just a few of the things I came to understand in my time abroad. But the one thing I wanted to know for myself is, “How will I measure my success?” How was I supposed to go to a country I had never been to, with a language I wasn’t particularly fluent in, and be successful? I think people need to understand that any progress is success. There is a constant stress to make huge, life-changing improvements all the time. I had to forget that in order to be in the moment take the victories along with the defeats. To me, creating strong bonds, learning about myself, exchanging knowledge were the ways in which I found success. It turns out that using music facilitated much of my own success in such a new world.

In addition to music, my body language and disposition served as a means to make connections despite barriers. Therefore, smiles, hugs, and laughter became a measure of my success in my service-learning programs. I realized that just by showing up every day and trying, that I was actually making an impact on the people I worked with and on my growth as a person.


I had the great fortune of working in two unique settings in Cusco. From about 8 am to 2 pm, I assisted a teacher in a classroom for children with intellectual and physical disabilities. From 4pm to 7pm, I taught hour-long lessons in guitar, piano, and music theory lessons to all ages. This combination of settings was a serious challenge for me. On one hand, I’m interacting with children who have communication disorders and could only understand a nuanced Spanish conversation. On another, my baseline to communicate is music, the universal language. As a teacher, I found the importance of conversational Spanish and I had to work with what I could and just walk out of the door expecting to do well at some things and not so well with other things. It was a time of constant self-analysis, -awareness, and -motivation.

Looking Back

In the end, I made great strides for myself. Despite the language, I established deep relationships with those I came to know while abroad. There were frustrating, defeating days, but I knew the difference I was making for myself and my family. Looking back, I had the kind of childhood where this opportunity shouldn’t have been possible. I used to worry about some very basic things, but during that time in Peru, I was just worried about being the best me I could. That was absolutely liberating. Music helped me to build the bridges that created profound growth and unexpected relationships with those who are supposed to be far different from myself.

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