When Daya Madhur (’16 MA) was a child in Regina, she would hide under tables, her shyness and fear insurmountable obstacles.
Madhur’s parents made every effort to bring their daughter out of her shell, including signing her up for choir. Drama and music classes followed, and soon she discovered an aptitude not only for singing, but for performance. Now, as an ethnomusicologist and teacher, Madhur believes passionately in the power of the arts to transform lives. She should know — it transformed hers.
“I really grew up in the arts,” she laughs. “I’ve lived that journey. I know what it’s like to have anxiety on stage. As a teacher, when I see that in students, it’s an opportunity to help.”
Since graduating from the University of Regina with a degree in music and education, Madhur has used the fine arts — in particular music — to create a classroom environment where difficult subjects like racism and inclusion are openly addressed — a practice she explored in greater depth while working on her MA thesis, Fostering a Sense of Community among Middle-Year Students through Song and Dance Practices.
“I know what it’s like to have anxiety on stage. When I see that in students, it’s an opportunity to help.” -Daya Madhur
“What I love about the fine arts is that it’s so emotional,” she says. “It puts words where words fall short.”
According to Madhur, it can also build community. Working with at-risk youth, she incorporated dance, visual art and other forms of expression into the classroom, encouraging her students to find points of connection as they worked through various projects.
“These students didn’t know each other, so I created a piece about belonging,” she says. “It was really interesting to see them work on that: who likes this, what TV show do you watch, but then they realized – we all breathe, we all have a heart. So we created a body percussion piece where our breath was the percussion and we danced out our narratives.” According to Madhur, the stories ran from personal loss to getting the winning touchdown at a football game, but in the end, the students learned about connection. “It gave them a safe place to get those feelings out.”
While studying for her master’s degree in the Department of Music’s ethnomusicology program, Madhur’s exposure to world music, especially the Indian Music Ensemble and the West African Music Ensemble, offered myriad opportunities to hone her skills while learning about and building national and international relationships. An internship at the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2014 further deepened her appreciation of world music and its educational potential.
“At a young age, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. For years, I was embarrassed by it, but [now] I can use those skills to tell my story, and to help other people tell their stories.” – Daya Madhur
“I was there [in Washington] during their Folklife Festival, which featured Kenya and China,” she says. “My family was born in Kenya, and I’ve visited Kenya, so it was really neat to learn about that. I worked in sales and marketing for Folkways on the release of the UNESCO collection of traditional music. These are recordings of sounds — voices and music — that are recognized as being endangered. It was an amazing opportunity to promote these albums.”
The internship at the Smithsonian led to a position as pedagogical community outreach coordinator with UAlberta’s folkwaysAlive!, which Madhur calls one of her most memorable experiences. Citing their mission of integrating sound and fine arts into the community, Madhur was able to bring all of her experiences to bear while engaging with Edmontonians and visiting musicians in the community.
In 2015, Madhur received certification as a Smithsonian World Music Educator, the only Canadian to receive such designation that year. In the same year, she participated in UAlberta’s Falling Walls Lab, an international competition that allows young academics an opportunity to present their ideas, research projects and initiatives in science and society. She was the first Arts student to be in the final round in the lab’s two-year history
Madhur is eager to point out that her journey from paralyzing shyness to community leader was far from a straight line. Early in her MA program, Madhur was awarded the GSA’s Graduate Student Rising Star Award, which she now views as a validation of her struggles. “I was always that kid who worked so much harder than others,” she says. “At a young age, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I had to put in 10 times the amount of work. For years, I was embarrassed by it, but I can now say: this is a part of me. It guided me to the fine arts, and I can use those skills to tell my story, and to help other people tell their stories.”
Madhur recently completed an Artist-in-Residency at the University of Regina, and is looking forward to whatever comes next.
“We carry with us all these experiences,” she says. “I use the analogy of a constellation with my students. My constellation has all these experiences and I have the U of A very close to my heart. As I move forward, I’m open to the next opportunity!”
Banner photo by Epic Photography