By Racquel Joseph
Senior lecturer of music Dr. Bradley Bolen is taking a working vacation this year. He is teaming up with the Houston non-profit American Voices to bring music and the arts to the Middle East. Come July 3, Bolen will be headed into Erbil, Iraq, taking his art to a whole new, exotic arena. Bolen will also make stops in Syria and Lebanon, leading workshops and classes in piano for young musicians.
These YES (Youth Excellence on Stage) Academies were established as part of American Voices’ mission to spread diplomacy and engage culturally with countries often isolated or unstable. Bolen will maintain a blog throughout his trip and will allow Between the Lines’ readers to follow his progress at: bolen88.wordpress.com.
Bolen’s sense of adventure seems rooted in his gratitude for the ability to play. He explains a part of this motivation as, “the thing people don’t see.” Then, he extends his right arm to reveal a long, ropy scar.
In his junior year of college, Bolen began having “trouble” with his arms that made it difficult to play. After shuffling from doctor to doctor without a diagnosis, he found one that agreed to operate. The surgeon, likely inexperienced or more interested in the case than the man, hacked through muscle and left considerable damage. After the operation, it took Bolen three months to extend his arm straight. He eventually found a neurosurgeon that, over the course of five surgeries, removed the scar tissue caked on his radial nerve from the previous operation. Several of those surgeries occurred between the time he was accepted and attended graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.
But Bolen made it through to play Mozart in Austria and study under greats like Claude Frank. Now, he will pass on music to the youth of a country he has never even visited.
Bolen’s own exposure to music began with the 1966 classic Born Free. A young Bolen wandered down to a “dilapidated upright” in his basement and plunked out the classic theme. At age eight, he began taking lessons and fell for the piano. He took lessons alongside his father, who eventually bought him the baby grand that now sits in the same basement as his first instrument. With a father in academia, Bolen was able to get the seal of approval of an accomplished Hungarian pianist, David Stokan. From then on, pursuing a career in music was a given.
Bolen has been on the Baylor faculty for the past ten years. Just one year ago, his wife, Dr. Lynne Baker, joined him at Baylor as a lecturer in environmental science. Bolen finds the rarity of their situation remarkable.
“Her specialty is a monkey in Nigeria, and I’m a musician in an academic position,” he says. She, too, will be traveling this summer but her destinations are two Nigerian villages, Akpugoeze and Lagwa. These villages are relatively unique within Africa, as the people do not kill or eat monkeys; these monkeys were designated “sacred” by their ancestors’ religion. The shrinking environments of the animals have made them pests to their human neighbors, who fear harming them.
Dr. Baker will be conducting a project in oral history and a census of the monkeys. Upon her return in August, Between the Lines will report on her travels, research, and the solutions that may result.