Until I sat down to think about the topic at hand, I hadn't realized how many different genres of music I had experienced throughout the years. I was surrounded by music growing up since my Mother is a director of music at a church. She didn't stick with Wesleyan hymns the whole time, either, and so I would say my first main influence was My Church. (My Mother was also a piano teacher, but I feel as if this realm did not give way to outside music to which the topic at hand suggests I remain focused upon.)
My Mother introduced many anthems to the choir that ranged from classical to African to spiritual and even 'pop' (but very occasional if at all regarding the use of pop music).
Secondly, my experience in jazz band as a jazz pianist for seven years expanded my musical training and ear to hear dominant sevenths and encouraged me to swing rhythms. So the next "soundbyte" was derived from my experience in Jazz Band.
Then, in High School I was the Spanish Club President and I was interested in pursuing immigration reform. Therefore, armed with a passion for Latin America and the Spanish language I started listening to the local Hispanic Music Station, bought a "Latin Lounge" CD, frequented the local Mexican restaurant, heard the mariachi band, and went to Las Tapas in D.C. where I saw flamenco dancers and heard flamenco music each year with my Sister. This soundbyte would be entitled Musica Latina.
I was also afforded the opportunity, through an application process and an audition, to join a choral group two Summers in a row called "Voices of Youth" (VoY). We learned a full program of music, traveled somewhere within the US or abroad for one week to do mission work and give concerts, and upon our return to the East Coast we traveled up the East Coast back to VA doing mission work each day and giving up to two concerts a day/night. The first Summer VoY traveled to Louisiana where I was exposed to Cajun culture, Orleans jazz, and a certain tribe's Native American music (we visited a reservation). In the Native American settlement I realized the communal function of the music. The meaning of the costuming was explained to me and while I watched the traditional dances and ate special bread I felt the overwhelming sense of community and fellowship. The net Summer VoY traveled to England. Overall, my VoY experience enabled me to finally see another group of people create music within their cultural tradition first hand.
Then, after college and exposure to different types of music in a variety of classes and recitals, the biggest alteration in my understanding of music and how it was created and used occurred when I traveled to Morocco, Africa. Although I was traveling to Morocco to learn Arabic at the American Language Institute in Fes, I took my flute with me (and the guards in the Casablanca airport made me play it on the way out of the country to explain exactly what it was). I was placed with a host family- a Mother, Hejja, who only spoke Arabic and French, a Brother, Simo, who spoke Arabic, French and English and a host Sister, Ouiam, who spoke Arabic, French and Spanish. I was just beginning my studies in Arabic and needless to say there were many misunderstandings that led to prolonged moments of laughter. However, I found, when I played my flute (Griffes "Poem" to be exact), my host family listened and we ended up exchanging stories and sounds. I even taught my host Mother how to hold and play the flute! (With out being able to instruct her verbally- you don't exactly learn the words to teach flute in Arabic 101.)
Also, the first time I heard the call to prayer was truly magical. Although I am not Muslim and I could not understand the words that the caller sang out- I was stilled for a moment. The call to prayer served as a marker during the day as to what time it was and although the sound became a normal expectation (I missed it very much when I left Morocco), the calm and focus I found in the melodic proclamation did not cease. Of course I was very lucky in that the local mosque had a talented caller- I have heard some call to prayers do not have such a calming effect.
Furthermore, I was afforded the opportunity to attend a traditional Moroccan wedding and I was able to see and hear some of the traditional wedding and "Fesy" music that corresponds with the wedding 'ceremony' (which is more like a big party with a lot of dancing and lifting of the bride and groom. Yes, literal lifting).
Then, perhaps the most influential experience I had in redefining my idea of music ability was in the middle of the Sahara Desert. My class rode out on camels through the desert and spent the night in a Bedouin camp. That evening we had unidentifiable food by candlelight and spent the evening making music with drums, winds, and chanting (none of which I understood but I sang it out regardless). The next morning, after awaking to something green on my mattress, I gazed across the endless landscape of golden sand and I realized I had tangible proof of something I had suspected beforehand. I realized that music didn't have to be restricted- it didn't have to be taught in offices and practiced in practice rooms. It could just happen. Of course, on an intellectual level I understood this point far before my experience in the Sahara desert, but the experience from that evening has forever shaped my understanding of music making. Also, the music was very different than what I expected. I had heard standard Middle Eastern music but Bedouin music is influenced in different ways and there are unique sounds to each genre.
After I returned from Morocco, I decided to pursue belly dancing and I signed up for a class at Ballet Spartanburg. With my love for Arab culture and the Arabic language I was intrigued, much as I had been before with Latin music, in the music of the region. Bellydancing at Ballet Spartanburg heightened my exposure to Middle Eastern music. Also, my response to the music was quite natural and I attribute it to the different elements of that genre including rhythm, melodic sequence, and instrumentation.
Also, this past year I traveled to Israel and the Palestinian Territories where I once again took my flute and I experienced the communicative powers of music. I was supposed to further my Arabic studies, however the language program was cancelled and I was placed in the Political Science and middle East Studies program at Galillee College in Kibbutz Mizra, Israel. The group of students, mostly graduate students and professors, came from all parts of the world including Colombia, Spain, South Korea, Japan, England, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Not only did I experience music within Israel and the Palestinian territories, but I was able to obtain musical soundbytes from each country represented in our study group as well thanks to a "Culture Night" we had in the kibbutz. The group heard two traditional songs from a Tanzanian delegation that was present, heard and watched two dances from Nigeria, saw the Colombians and Spaniards join together in dance, watched and learned a traditional warrior dance from Japan, listened and learned two songs from South Korea (their costumes were darling as well), and learned a fly (or flea?) song from Slovakia. Not to mention the Moroccan presentation we had from the Moroccan Brit student which turned into a group dance for everyone.
I would like to elaborate further upon my experience in Israel and Palestine while focusing on the communicative powers of music and the ways different Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are utilizing the arts at a later date.
I hope you have enjoyed a chronological journey through the cultural soundbytes I have experienced throughout my life. I hope to expand upon the influence these experiences have had on me in my life as a musician and communicator.
 We discussed "soundscapes" in the course today. According to Wikipedia (an unreliable source at times but fitting for this) a sound scape is as follows:
A soundscape is a sound or combination of sounds that forms or arises from an immersive environment. The study of soundscape is the subject of acoustic ecology. The idea of soundscape refers to both the natural acoustic environment, consisting of natural sounds, including animal vocalizations and, for instance, the sounds of weather and other natural elements; and environmental sounds created by humans, through musical composition, sound design, and other ordinary human activities including conversation, work, and sounds of mechanical origin resulting from use of industrial technology.