The Lotus Education & Arts Foundation began its 22nd year of programs Monday morning with a visit from Iraqi oud player Rahim AlHaj.
AlHaj, a political refugee who’s now a U.S. citizen, visited Parkview Primary and Intermediate School on Monday morning to perform and answer questions for the 500 students. Loraine Martin, outreach director for Lotus, said the children were totally captivated as AlHaj played for them.
“It was just a great experience,” Martin said. “Talking to the music teacher, the kids were having lots of great discussions leading up to this — people from the different part of the world have different skin color, some of those things. Music is a powerful tool for engagement and bridging connections, and that’s what we believe in the power of what Blossoms can do.”
Lotus Blossoms is one of the many initiatives members of Lotus Education & Arts take on throughout the year.
This year’s lineup includes AlHaj, Wu Man playing the Chinese lute, or pipa, the Sones de México Ensemble, Samite from Uganda and Fiddle n’ Feet, representing North American and Celtic tradition.
During the first event of the five-week series, Martin said the elementary school children spoke to the musician and learned more about life in another country, an opportunity some may not have had otherwise.
“The kids had really great questions: ‘When did you start playing?’ ‘What kind of wood is your instrument made of?’ and, of course, ‘What’s your favorite color?’” Martin said. “It was very sweet. People were coming up and talking to him – students in some of our areas don’t get to engage with people from Iraq or the Middle East. They got to hear someone in person who is one of the top oud playsers in the world.”
Students at the lower levels are not the only ones who get to work with these visiting musicians, though, as there are 27 participating schools across multiple Southern Indiana counties including Monroe, Martin said.
AlHaj will perform at 12 p.m. Wednesday at the IU Archives of Traditional Music as part of his visit to Indiana. Wu Man’s visit was coordinated in collaboration with the IU Arts and Humanities Council, and Man will perform a final concert at the 7:30 p.m. March 31 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
“We’re really excited to have someone associated with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project,” Martin said. “We’re getting her engaged with students on campus as well, working with IU Ethnomusicology Student Association as well as the Folklore Student Association. We’re trying to reach a diverse audience here and getting those really unique opportunities that don’t come all the time.”
The two-day Blossoms Bazaar, the event that started Lotus Blossoms, will take place mainly for the public and other schools involved, though there will be a family day starting at 11 a.m. April 1.
During the family day students and their families can walk through and participate in a variety of craft activities, Martin said.
The visit of Sones de Mexico will include a free concert at 7 p.m. April 5 at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and an opportunity for students to meet the sextet at La Casa Latino Cultural Center.
Samite, the visiting flute player originally from Uganda, fled to Kenya as a political refugee.
Martin said he has since been involved in a variety of humanitarian causes, including Musicians for World Harmony.
“It was an exciting thing to learn about Samite, and it’s another reflection of how music can be to transform, connect and endgeage us with the world,” Martin said. “We will have him in school, a free performance at Monroe County Public Library and he’ll be at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis focusing on using the arts as part of the healing process.”
Now that the series has started, Martin said she is excited to see the progress.
“It just feels exciting to be able to share these amazing artists with children and our community in really special, thought-provoking ways,” Martin said. “We’re off to a good start so far.”