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"By perseverance the snail reached the ark. "
- Charles Spurgeon

"Not all those who wander are lost."
-Tolkien

05 januari 2013

A refugee of war, Pacific University professor Dijana Ihas teaches music to heal and inspire

Her small, strong arms wave through the air in quick, measured loops -- gestures that allow professor Dijana Ihas to bring all of the room's violins, cellos, and violas into harmony.
Suddenly, she stops. Her hands come to her side and her brown eyes soften. "Students," she said. "What do you think is heart of this piece?"
Without failure, her booming voice and thick eastern European accent command their attention. She is asking them to assign emotion to the music. To not only learn how to play it, but to experience it.
"This class becomes an emotional release for a lot of students -- a really powerful one," said Sarah Tomscha, a Pacific University student and pupil of Ihas.
Ihas has seen music's ability to lift one's spirit even in the direst of circumstances. Being a musician helped her survive the Bosnian War. It's how she helped others survive, too.
Born in 1963 in Sarajevo in what was then socialist-run Yugoslavia, Ihas was raised in a strict education system in which children chose concentrations early and were rigorously tested every year.
Because adults were required to work, the government provided afterschool programs for children. For girls, the options were ballet, foreign language, or music. Ihas' parents chose music.
"Learning music became fun for me," Ihas said. "It felt natural."
She mastered the viola, joined a musical conservatory after high school, and went on to join several ensembles that traveled throughout the world.
This, she thought, would be her life: performing music while living out her days in the Balkans with her family. But in April 1992, when the Serbs attacked, everything changed.
The Serbian Army surrounded her city, attacking with bombs, machine guns, rockets, and sniper fire. While others fled to safety, Ihas chose to stay, a decision she still strongly defends today.
"I couldn't leave the country that gave me everything at a time when it needed me most."

ihas.JPG View full size Instructor Dijana Ihas sits in her office at Pacific University'™s Taylor Meade Performing Arts building, sharing her memories of living through the Bosnian War before coming to the U.S. as a refugee.   
 
 
Ihas, then pregnant, stayed in an apartment in central Sarajevo with her husband. There had no electricity. No running water. Food was scarce. Ihas' music, however, lived on. She met with other members of the Sarajevo String Quartet and they agreed to keep performing. Meeting regularly, they practiced inside of an apartment to a background of explosions and shrill blasts of ambulance sirens.
It wasn't fun, Ihas said. But it kept them sane.
On one sunny day in June, Ihas and other members of the quartet learned that a nearby synagogue had been bombed. Where others saw ruin, they saw opportunity.
"It was a chance to show the world that while buildings can be destroyed, our spirits could not be broken," she said.
Inside the synagogue, the quartet, dressed in black, began performing Mozart. By the end of the set, the room was full of teary onlookers.
"For the first time, I realized then that music is more than just decoration in life," Ihas said. "It's a necessity. Something that helped us keep our dignity and kept us feeling human."
Performing in broken churches, hospitals, markets, and theaters across Sarajevo, the quartet played more than 200 concerts throughout the three-year war.
When a peace deal was brokered in December 1995, Ihas intended to stay in Sarajevo. But with the region suddenly split along ethnic lines, she found herself in a quandary.
She was in a mixed marriage: a Croat married to a Bosniak man. One day, when humanitarian aid workers refused to hand over diapers for her ethnically mixed son, she realized she no longer had a future in Bosnia.
In August 1997, she arrived in the United States as a war refugee, knowing no English and owning practically nothing, she said. Working as a babysitter to make ends meet and taking night classes in English, she continued her education and eventually earned a Ph.D. in music education from the University of Oregon.
Today, she's an assistant professor of music education at Pacific University, where she began in 2010.
"She's so passionate about what she does," said Gail Harris, a parent of one of Ihas' younger students. "She teaches the students to focus, to listen, to work together as a group ... She's exceptional."
True to form, Ihas is just as busy an as educator here as she was as a musician in Bosnia. She teaches aspiring music teachers and also runs the university's strings program, instructing young children to perform.
By teaching music to as many as possible, she hopes to not only better her students, but also humanity.
"In the war, I learned that life can be fragile, and very hard," she said.
"But music is one way to improve quality of life. It makes us more humane, less willing to hurt each other. Altogether, it just makes the world a much more beautiful place."

Original: http://www.oregonlive.com/forest-grove/index.ssf/2012/12/pacific_university_professor_d.html#




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