Blending Music, Literature, and Latin American Culture: Sarah Finley ’08

Blending Music, Literature, and Latin American Culture: Sarah Finley ’08

Converse College Faculty

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Voice performance major and Nisbet Honors student Sarah Finley ’08 took advantage of faculty-mentored research at Converse to tie together her diverse passions in music, literature, and Latin American culture. She used that experience to help gain admission to a top Ph.D. program and now she is a professor of Latin American Colonial Literature at Christopher Newport University, one of only three chosen for the tenure-track position. We gained some insight into Sarah’s background during this interivew from 2008.

Scholarly Interest

“I have several areas of interest; foreign language, Latin American poetry, music and global service. If I had to choose one to stand out, my greatest passion would be my commitment to creating and working with global service projects in Latin America. I traveled to the Dominican Republic for this first time as a Converse senior to volunteer as a medical translator, and that first trip has opened doors that I never imagined. I fell in love with the lifestyle, the countryside and the people. The people with whom I work in the Dominican Republic may not have the material wealth to which I, as a US citizen, am accustomed, yet they always find something to smile and laugh about. Theirs is a great gift. As one friend put it, ‘We are poor, but we laugh in the face of our poverty.'”

Inspiration and Reaching our Full Potential

“I am incredibly lucky, for a multitude of gifted and talented individuals have touched my life. I have a network of friends all over the world upon whom I know I can call for support at any time. At the same time, I believe that we will never realize our greatest potential if we continually turn to outside sources for inspiration and support. I set aside time each day to learn more about who I am, discover new talent and devise new techniques for compensating with my weaknesses. I have learned from many, many incredible people who have been a part of my life, but when all is said and done, my greatest inspiration must be my own dreams and goals or I would not be true to myself.”

Research “Musical Allusions in the Poetry of Octavio Paz” (A fully funded SCICU Research Project)

“To be honest, I stumbled upon my studies of Octavio Paz. I had taken a bit of Spanish in high school, and beyond my high school experience, I taught myself to read and understand the language independently of any formal study. I discovered Octavio Paz through the music of Eric Whitacre, a contemporary composer who commonly sets Paz’s texts. I was fascinated by the way the language Paz employed and the methods by which he constructed his poems. At the beginning of my junior year, I was enrolled in my first formal Spanish class in college (with the exception of a literature in translation course), and I approached my Converse advisor to inquire about the possibility of studying Paz in a more in-depth manner. He willingly agreed to undertake an independent study with me and suggested that I combine the project with my major (vocal performance) by exploring the musical allusions in the poetry.

“Carrying out the research involved a lot of creative thinking and self-discipline. My professor and I picked out all of the poems in an anthology that contained musical references, and I set out counting syllables, looking up word connotations, and reading as much about Octavio Paz as I could. I contacted Dr. Anthony Stanton, the translator of Paz’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, to inquire about possible musical influences in Paz’s life. Much to our surprise, Dr. Stanton responded and said that Paz’s poetry was more connected to visual art than it was to music. He listed a variety of musical connections in Paz’s life, including a friendship with composer John Cage and an interest in the classical music of India that was cultivated while Paz served as the Mexican ambassador to India. From my perspective, the research was mostly about developing and testing theories of possible connections. After studying a large number of poems, I was able to draw lines to connect the dots between my findings and trace a path of development.”

My Converse Experience

“I grew immensely as a researcher and performer at Converse because the interdisciplinary nature of my interests often called me to choose a different path than those around me. I searched for ways to combine my areas of interest, and in doing so, I discovered new passions in each area.”

After Converse

Sarah completed her doctorate at the University of Kentucky in 2014. She taught at Kenyon College and has recently accepted a tenure track position at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. The position in Latin American Colonial Literature for which she was chosen was one of only three available in the U.S. that year.