Liz Shropshire shared how she made an impact using music in an inspirational lecture for College of Fine Arts and Communication faculty and students
College of Fine Arts and Communication alumna Liz Shropshire shared her experiences helping children and teenagers from war-torn communities in an alumni lecture for Homecoming week on Oct. 5. Shropshire graduated from BYU with a Bachelor of Arts in music composition and theory before obtaining a Master’s degree in composition for the music industry from the University of California. She began her presentation by explaining how her time studying music sparked her desire to help others. “Whenever I would be doing my music,” Shropshire said, “whether it was practicing an instrument or composing, I would just be so personally fulfilled that it started to feel selfish. I felt like I needed to do more for the world.” Although she considered changing her major to social work or psychology, Shropshire felt she needed to stay in music. In 1999, after hearing an NPR program about female refugees in Albania, Shropshire canceled a planned vacation to Europe in order to join a volunteer organization in Kosovo. A friend convinced her to do what she does best and take a music program with her. She ended up taking $5,000 worth of penny whistles and harmonicas to Kosovo. “The reason I chose these instruments is because, not only are they very easy to play, but because they are little,” Shropshire said. “I wanted the children to have something small enough that they could put in their pocket and hide so no one would know they had it.”
Shropshire arrived in Kosovo to find everything destroyed by war. The first camp she arrived in housed about 350 people, of which only three were adult men. The women were so overcome with their own trauma, they were unable to care for the children in the camp. Shropshire initially began music classes for the girls as she thought the boys would be too disruptive. However, the boys begged for classes of their own, even pretending to gather their tears to give in exchange. “These boys became the best music class I have ever taught in my entire life,” Shropshire said. “If one of the boys started talking, the others would physically jump on him so the class could keep going. They kept their harmonicas with them and played them everywhere they went. So this place that had been so filled with sadness became this place with so much life.” The classes grew and Shropshire extended her three-week trip to six. When it was time to return to California, the children begged her to stay, saying that the classes were the only things specifically for them. Shropshire knew she needed to return, so she created the Shropshire Music Foundation. Shropshire went on to explain the different impact war has on teenagers as opposed to children. “If you are a teenager living in a war zone and you make a bad choice, you could lose your parents their home, your mom could be taken off or your father could be killed. So what happens to a teenager in a war zone is that you stop trying because nothing you do makes anything better. Then the war ends and everything is supposed to be great. But if you are a teenager who has lived through this, you don’t believe it is ever going to be better. You have realized and decided you can’t make a difference.” A solution to this mindset presented itself when Shropshire decided to teach a twelve-year-old girl who translated for her, how to teach music. The girl’s friends asked to do the same until a program was started to give teenagers the opportunity to teach the music classes. “These kids are amazing. Every one of them lost at least one family member in the war, but every one of them decided they wanted to spend their spare time helping children. They don’t just show up to teach, they have to go through training for a whole year, practice teaching in front of each other, learn the instruments themselves and prepare lesson plans. Because of them, our program in Kosovo runs year round.” The impact the music had on their lives also differed from the children. “The children lose their anger,” Shropshire said. “The teenagers become leaders.” Shropshire expanded her work to other countries. In Northern Ireland, a country still 95% segregated between Catholics and Protestants, she started music classes where children of both faiths meet together. “Within three classes, they become friends,” Shropshire said. In Uganda, Shropshire once again taught children and teenagers the joy of music. In a video Shropshire shared during the lecture, a former child soldier explained how he plays his ukelele and pennywhistle whenever he begins to remember the traumatic events in his past.
Most recently, Shropshire has brought her music program to camps in Greece that house Yazidi and Syrian refugees. Another video Shropshire shared showed two young women describing how teaching music to children has made them happy. The video poignantly ended with a group of girls playing “You are My Sunshine” on the ukulele. “The goal is not to make amazing musicians,” Shropshire said on why music has the ability to make such a huge impact. “The goal is to teach them how amazing they are.” The lecture ended with Shropshire sharing the best way to make a difference in the world. “Don’t let your major limit you,” Shropshire said. “Learn everything you can while you are here. Then just pray like crazy to know what to do with it because Heavenly Father has a mission for every single one of us and it is different for every single one of us.” A meet and greet with Liz Shropshire will take place Friday, Oct. 6 at 1 PM in HFAC A-410.