Empathy through Music
Greta Sloan, Associate

A man without a name is on a dangerous journey. He boards a train, risking death from falling off or suffocating within a freight car, or being dismembered trying to climb on or off the train. Those that have perished lie along the tracks in what has been called, “The Cemetery for the Nameless”. The man experiences anxiety running from pursuers, a moment of peace inside a church during a rainstorm, and a moment of wistful hope thinking of the possibility of a better life should he make it through the journey.

The man has a complex and rich inner life, with “emotions and fears and hopes and dreams that are just as compelling and full as what you feel”, and he remains nameless so that his shoes are easily slipped in to.

This is Reinaldo Moya’s piano composition, “The Way North”, that follows the journey of a Central American migrant making his way to the US in search of a better life. Moya comments, “there is a problem of looking at them as these subhuman people or subhuman things that are coming over to invade our great societies. . .to think of them as fully human is the real challenge. . .and I think that one of the best ways to achieve this understanding is through community. It’s through being together and understanding people-you have hopes you have fears, and when your daughter gets sick you get just as worried as I do when my child is sick.” Moya goes on to say, “One of the things I was trying very deliberately to do in the piece was humanize these stories”.

Moya himself is an immigrant from Venezuela, and a graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema music program, a publicly-financed social program that provides access to free classical music education and orchestral engagement for children from impoverished backgrounds.   In 2017, IMAGO worked with El Sistema to explore how they could scale. Since then, the crisis in Venezuela has deepened and led to one of the largest external migration crises in history, and IMAGO has been unable to continue to work with El Sistema.

On his involvement with El Sistema, Moya states, “Very early on, I started to understand the power of music to serve as a bridge between cultures." Now, he comments “the tragedy has been that with the whole political system it has been much more difficult for El Sistema to do its work. There may be people for whom going to orchestra concerts and music lessons is. . . . the thing they live for quite literally when people aren’t eating very well and really struggling to just live. They are still showing up for orchestras, they are still showing up for lessons. It’s inspiring but also heartbreaking in many ways”.

In some ways, Moya wrote “The Way North” to process some of his own emotions towards his own immigration story, which was full of its own heartache and difficulties. About writing the piece, he comments, “One of the concerns I had is that I am not Mexican and this was not my own immigration story. . .I felt apprehensive about taking someone else’s story, someone else’s pain, suffering, difficulties, and trauma, and making a piece out of it”. Moya was told by friends and family that “unlike most Latin American immigrants who have undergone some sort of journey, you have the tools to tell the story with music, and maybe through telling the story through your piece, other people might find some semblance of comfort and see themselves reflected through the story.”

Moya is hopeful that his piece will be a voice in the conversation about the migrant crisis in the US and Mexico. He hopes, “to give comfort to those who have suffered because of this. To see their story in music I hope that provides justice and comfort. And I hope for them to see themselves reflected in this kind of music that often does not include people like them”.

The set is closed by two pieces, the “Elegy for the Nameless” which honors the people who lie in the “Cemetery for the Nameless” along the train tracks, whose names are unknown and who are largely forgotten in their struggle, and “Dreams of Flight”, which aims to provide “a ray of hope: to allow our migrant to fly away like a bird, free, easily eclipsing the political borders that cause grief and struggle”.

You can listen to Reinaldo Moya’s “The Way North”, here: https://www.reinaldomoya.com/the-way-north.

Migrating people aboard "La Bestia", IMAGE SOURCE: https://eldiariony.com/2016/08/24/estocada-a-la-bestia-como-transporte-de-migrantes/