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Vol. 12 No. 1 (2023): Music Making and Music Research in the Asia-Pacific Region in Times of COVID-19

“Music as Method” in Marshallese Community-driven Research and Outreach during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Jessica Schwartz


This essay centers on the sound- and music-based methodologies of the Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI) in terms of “community-driven research” that began in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when the virus was taking a massive toll on the community. The MEI is a nonprofit based in Springdale, Arkansas, which is home to the largest diasporic Marshallese community in the continental US. The first part analyzes the MEI’s COVID-19 informational materials on their website from an audiovisual perspective. Although mitigating the day-to-day consequences of COVID-19 took a necessary priority, the MEI educational programmers were determined to examine the long-term consequences of social distancing (as community disenfranchisement) in a transpacific context and the negative media representation of Marshallese regarding COVID-19 cases. Consequently, they came up with a project called “Songs of Our Atolls,” that would facilitate intergenerational communication and combat negative stereotyping. The second part explores the “Songs” project from its inception to grant application to realization through the activism of Marshallese youth musicians (MARK Harmony). Based on interviews and my remote participation, I examine the studio-based outreach to elders through which the band engaged in conversations and intergenerational learning (through songs) in ways that maintained social proximity while keeping physical distance in culturally appropriate ways. The third part offers a critical assessment of potential directions for the “Songs” project, including bidirectional learning, that dovetails with part one of the essay, whereby the band would work on collaborative public service announcements with other youths and elders, which is a method inspired by Youth to Youth in Health (an organization in the Marshall Islands). My conclusion sums up the ethical importance of paying attention to sound and music in terms of communal health and situating these transpacific forms of culturally appropriate information dissemination and intergenerational learning in the broader diaspora.