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Davis Projects for Peace Grant Winner Sees Power of Music

Viet Linh “Chris” Tran ’17 has won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant that will allow him to establish a music program for blind students in his home city of Hanoi, Vietnam.

The program, which he will implement over the summer, is called “Music Brings Light.” It was inspired by Tran’s own love of music and by a boy he met in 2012 at the Nguyen Dinh Chieu Special School for the Blind.

While volunteering at the Hanoi school, Tran observed that a student named Long, who could play five different instruments, stood out from the rest of his classmates. While the other blind students were quiet and reserved, Long was confident and gregarious.

Tran, who is majoring in music and business, realized that if the other students had an opportunity to learn music, it may help them blossom into more outgoing, self-assured people. After all, he’d witnessed the same metamorphosis in himself when he picked up a guitar in high school and started to study singing at Washington and Lee.

“The system is just about math, literature and science. I wasn’t really exposed to music,” he said. “It changed me a lot as a person.”

His research for the Davis application turned up no music schools for the blind in all of Vietnam.

Mark Rush, director of international education and Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, said Tran’s project is “truly a humanistic endeavor.”

“First, it is a manifestation of the depth of the human spirit,” Rush said. “In seeking to bring music to the blind, Chris demonstrates the transcendence of the arts. Those without vision obviously have voice.  With music, Chris will give another voice to the students he will work with this summer.”

“Music Brings Light” is a multi-phase project that will start with the creation of a music lab at the school for the blind. Tran said he will use the grant money to furnish the lab with five digital organs, 10 guitars, speakers and microphones, a mini stage, music stands and Braille music sheets. He will then recruit 10 to 15 high school- or college-aged musicians willing to learn how to teach music to the blind. Several voice, piano and guitar teachers at Musicsoul Institute in Hanoi have already agreed to train the volunteers.

For the next eight weeks, 40 to 50 students from the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School will be chosen to learn an instrument, with lessons taking place three days per week for three hours at a time. Volunteers will also help the students to bond with one another and increase their confidence by exposing them to guest speakers, concerts and trips.

At the end of the summer, Tran wants to organize a recital. He also plans to fund additional training so the most successful students can continue to learn after his program has ended.

“I strongly believe that music education can help them overcome their diffidence and foster the belief/notion that anyone can contribute to the beauty of life,” Tran wrote in his grant application. “Moreover, our goal to raise public awareness will help … people understand and adopt a supportive attitude toward the blind. We hope to live in a society where blind people have a stable position.”

As a partner school of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, Washington and Lee is eligible to receive Davis Projects for Peace grants. The program is funded by the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who established it on her 100th birthday in 2007 as a way to challenge young people to plant seeds of peace throughout the world with innovative projects.

At least one Washington and Lee student has won a Davis grant each year since the award’s inception.