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Singer Christiane Karam Raises Her Voice-and Her Fists-for Lebanon

26/09/2022

Singer Christiane Karam Raises Her Voice-and Her Fists-for Lebanon How the Voice Department faculty member's journey of healing led her from Beirut to Berklee to the boxing ring.

By

John Mirisola

September 26, 2022

Voice Department faculty member Christiane Karam will step into the ring to raise funds for the Childrens Cancer Center of Lebanon.

Image by Francesco Gargiulli

When Voice Department faculty member Christiane Karam steps out in front of the crowd at the MGM Music Hall in Boston this week, she wont be holding a microphone. That night, the only sound that will matter is the chime of a bell, a sound with a simple meaning: fight.

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Join Christiane Karam in the fight for Lebanese children with cancer.

On Thursday, September 29, Karam will face off against her opponent in the Belles of the Brawl IX charity boxing event, organized by Haymakers for Hope, which is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support cancer research and care. In Karams case, the money she raises will go directly to the Childrens Cancer Center of Lebanon in her native Beirut. The match is the culmination of many months of training and years of growth in the sport (all while balancing her careers as an educator, musician, artist, and much more)-but for Karam, this fight represents even more than an athletic competition for a worthy cause. Through it, she weaves together many threads in a story that stretches all the way back to her own childhood in Beirut.

The Doorway into Healing When civil war broke out in Lebanon, Karam was 3 years old. By the time the conflict officially concluded, she was 19. As a result, although Karam has a deep affection for the country and its people, she also bears deep scars from the trauma of growing up amid perpetual violence and unrest.

Even Karams earliest experiences of music were marked by the conflict. My mom started me with music lessons when I was 8, she says. There was no conservatory; everything was shut down because of the war. Everything was dangerous. The piano in our house was in a room we couldnt always access because it was more exposed to bombings than the inside rooms. So I couldnt always practice.

Yet in spite of the turbulent circumstances surrounding her musical pursuits, Karam says that music itself quickly became a very safe space for me. It was a passion that stuck with her into her 20s, through the end of the war and her early career explorations in the medical field, until she finally decided at the age of 26 that it was time to leave. It was time to give myself a new chance and a new start. So she came to study at Berklee and pursue a new life as a musician. The transition to the United States was tumultuous...adapting from the reality that I came from, she says. But she knew shed done the right thing, and had given herself an opportunity to begin to heal.

That healing has involved many practices over the years, but it began with singing. My work started with the voice, Karam says. It was my doorway into my healing. She says she had to gradually get comfortable with the sound of her own voice, especially when singing loudly, and to sit with her own discomfort over how those sounds could transform in her mind into the wailing laments of war. Every experience we have-its stored somewhere in our body, she says, drawing insight from psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk's pioneering work on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score. In order to fully connect with her voice as an instrument, Karam needed to do the slow work of learning that she was safe inside that sound, and, as an extension, inside her body. I had to sit with it and be with it and stand it, and little by little, help my body heal.

Rising Above I knew it was going to take time to heal and to get the music going, get the pieces together, Karam says. And it did, it took a long time. But here I am.

Nar album cover

Image by Francesco Gargiulli, design by Noemi Cruciani

Here, indeed: a professor in Berklees Voice Department, the director of the colleges Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, founder and organizer of the Berklee Middle Eastern Festival, and an acclaimed performer and songwriter in her own right. Karam is also a published author (her book, Of Broken Pieces and Light Ahead, was released in May), a visual artist, and an activist and advocate for social change. Outside of her teaching role at Berklee, she also runs a coaching practice focusing on voice, mindset, and embodiment.

In January, her quintet, which features Berklee community members Vadim Neselovskyi, Naseem Alatrash, Peter Slavov '02, and Keita Ogawa '07, released a new album, Nar. A mosaic of musical traditions ranging from classical and jazz to Arabic and Balkan folk influences, the record is ultimately a celebration of joy and communal perseverance in the midst of the worst the world can throw at us.

[Its] this idea of rising above and finding beauty, and finding the poetry...and ultimately not letting anything steal your joy, she explains, emphasizing that none of us are exempt from lifes trials.

Were all helping each other. It could be me today, it could be you tomorrow. We all need to cultivate compassion.... There is a sense of shared responsibility that we as artists can encourage in a way that can be light, and inspiring, and joyous, too.

Watch the Christiane Karam Quintets music video for the Nar single Beirut:

Stepping into the Ring Karams journey toward hope and healing would not have been possible if she had not found a practice that could teach her to trust her body the way that singing eventually taught her to trust her voice. And she found exactly what she was looking for in a setting shed been inexplicably drawn to since childhood: the boxing ring.

I was always so enthralled by what happened in the ring, what happened in the corner, the outfits, the movement, she says. Its almost
LINK: https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-now/news/singer-christiane-karam-raise...
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