Globe, the Geneva Graduate Institute Review
21 November 2023

The Unwritten Curriculum: Creating Harmony in a Dissonant World

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Joshua Hellinger just finished his master in International Relations and Political Science. Originally from Germany, he played violin in orchestras and ensembles in Germany, Buenos Aires, the Netherlands, Washington D.C., Jerusalem, Kampala, and also here in Geneva. In this piece, he considers the unique power of the violin in providing peace and balance in a dissonant world.

Studying international politics comes with a much broader curriculum than the list of courses provided each semester. As we disembark from our protected petals in Geneva, we need to carry the carefully cultivated knowledge, visions and inspiration from our minds into the chaotic and dissonant world around us. Any musician in front of an audience knows that this is no easy task. However, it is crucial.

Allowing me to overcome this challenge, one of the greatest mentors of my life has been a wooden case with four metal strings. I have been lucky enough to play the violin since childhood, a gift which has guided me through the world. In Argentina, I reached out to musicians on the street, which led to a year of performances with the national symphonic youth orchestra. This not only gave me a home on the other side of the planet from my native Germany, but also taught me how human connection is possible without words. Music has the power to create a space of collective intimacy that spans musicians, orchestras and audiences across borders. Indeed, setting nothing but music against violence has become a proper avenue for peacebuilding in Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine and elsewhere.

In any orchestra, however, one has to tune into a larger harmony. More than playing, one has to listen, which becomes even more important when things become turbulent. Playing in jazz clubs taught me how to quickly improvise, dealing not only with constantly changing melodies, but also with piles of papers to read before class, and a world of politics which seemingly turns into some wild form of free jazz itself.

Taking up my violin opens a calm space on the inside, where feelings and ideas arise while the mental noise becomes silent, especially in such moments of chaos. In peaceful times on the other hand, violins teach us how important it is to keep moving. Contrary to all expendable items in our life that wear out as we use them, be it cars, phones or laptops, violins improve the more they are played. In fact, putting a violin into a museum for decades can destroy its sound, which needs continuous practice to unfold. Across generations, some violins live intertwined with human destiny, surviving world wars and fleeing to new continents, testifying to the human courage that saved them along the way.

What the violin was to me takes many forms for others. However, for our personal evolution we also need to keep studying those courses that are not listed in the curriculum, especially now as we take on larger responsibilities and find our place in the world. Only then can we make sure that everyone´s unique sound comes to shine through and take part in determining how our global symphony continues at this critical moment.

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