Junior oboist Sonia Matheus, a Latina-Jewish woman, sees herself as a natural activist in the current American political climate where it feels like minority identities are viewed as unacceptable, she says. So, in just two years at Peabody, she has co-founded the La Obra Latinx Student Union and participated in the Art & Activism Workshop led by composer and Peabody faculty member Judah Adashi. From her hometown in Sacramento, California, Matheus, who also plays the English horn and is minoring in musicology at Peabody and European history at Homewood, talks about the intersection between music and activism.
Why did you co-found the La Obra Latinx Student Union?
“My dad is from Venezuela, and I grew up with the Spanish language around me. Coming to Peabody, I realized that there’s only about 2 percent of Latinos on campus. It encouraged me to find those people. So with one of my friends, Amelia Gil-Figueroa, who is a graduate performance diploma candidate at Peabody now, we decided to create a space for the Latinos on campus to come together and eat and dance — a place that feels like it is a home away from home. We came up with the name La Obra Latinx Student Union because La Obra means opus, a term used to denote when a composition was written by a composer, and Latinx is a gender-neutral term for Latino/ Latina, which is more inclusive of all of our members. We meet once a month and host events, such as a Selena viewing party and a Dominican Carnival Celebration, or take trips to Homewood or the medical campus to take part in events hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.”
Can you talk about the Art & Activism Workshop and your project for the class?
“We met every Friday to learn about the different sectors of activism, like environmentalism and LGBTQ+ activism. Then we’d have a very long conversation about what we can do as students and musicians. I used my freshman year to lay the groundwork for a project that mixes activist-Latinx poetry written by people of color and compositions by Peabody students who are Latino and/or who are allies of the community. My goal is to perform this composition and have a spoken word performance at my senior recital.”
How can music add to conversations about social change?
“Composers have a lot of power to create music that hits people emotionally. My go-to example of this is Shostakovich. I study him a lot. His Fifth Symphony was composed in 1937 at the height of Stalin’s purges. The piece portrayed this bombastic, elaborate military march, seemingly showing glory to the state. But the people in the audience knew that it was very over-the-top on purpose. At the end, there was a 40-minute stand- ing ovation. It was just so powerful to the people of Russia who suffered so much under Stalin. They knew the music was a cry for change. For musicians though, the way we’ve known to be activists is by creating benefit concerts where we play certain pieces and, through our musicality and emotions, express that an issue does matter; then we donate the benefits to organizations. At the moment, many musicians are passionate about fighting against and resisting the Trump administration. However, many of us feel stuck and powerless because participating in benefit concerts — or simply living our day-to-day lives of studying, practicing, and performing in orchestras — doesn’t change or contribute to the world in a way powerful enough to enact change. A powerful way of resistance through music is what I’m hoping to discover.”