Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Meghan Murphy has an opportunity to take her violin on the road.

The Lawrence University senior from Wauwatosa was notified Friday that she is one of 41 national recipients of a Watson Fellowship for a year-long wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Like all applicants, she has a grace period to decide if she will accept it.

Head shot of Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy ’19

Based on her Watson application, she would head to India, Norway, Azerbaijan, Ireland and Mexico to explore musical traditions that incorporate violins and violin-like instruments.

“From the Azerbaijani kamancha to the Norwegian fiddle, similar physical tools express vastly contrasting styles of music,” Murphy said in her Watson statement. “Whether for dance or lullabies, these instruments allow people to create community and speak their souls. The violin is deeply ingrained in my own cultural and emotional experience.

“During my Watson, I will immerse myself in violin traditions, learning the nuances that allow this versatile instrument to slip between cultures.”

Murphy, who has been a recipient of the Kim Hiett Jordan Scholarship at Lawrence, is the 66th Lawrentian to win a Watson fellowship since 1969.

“I am extremely grateful to all the professors, staff, and students at Lawrence — particularly my advisors — who have invested their time and energy to help me see the best in myself,” Murphy said Friday after getting the news of her Watson selection. “I would not be in the position, and much less have the confidence, to apply for and receive the Watson without this incredible community.” 

Murphy is studying violin performance and religious studies at Lawrence.

She is part of the 51st class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. The Watson provides funding for a year of purposeful international discovery for graduating college seniors in any discipline. This year’s class hails from six countries and 18 states, and fellows will travel to 76 countries exploring a wide range of topics.

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, said Murphy’s curiosity of music and of the world around her would serve her well on a year-long Watson journey.

“Meghan has everything it takes to make the very most of her dream to study violin traditions from around the globe,” Pertl said. “She is a wonderful violinist who brings with her infinite curiosity, and a gift for picking up her violin and jumping into any music setting you can possibly imagine.”

For information on applying for a Watson Fellowship, click here

Murphy admits she had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the violin during childhood. But by the time she reached high school, she was fully hooked on what she calls the “emotional messiness of music.” And during a year of study in China between high school and enrolling at Lawrence, she had a moment that spoke to the power of the music she is so drawn to.

“I think about the time when I was homesick in southern China and began playing Bach’s Chaconne in my room,” Murphy wrote in her personal statement, part of the Watson application. “An old woman from a nearby village heard and came to listen. I did not understand her village’s language and she could not read or write, but she showed me pictures of the beautiful Batik art she creates and I played for her. It was an incredibly meaningful moment of shared humanity.

“We still sometimes send pictures or recordings to each other, even though we have no way to communicate through words.”

Murphy anticipates more emotional connections via music as she prepares for a year of study that would take her around the globe.

According to her project proposal, she plans to first head to Norway in September, where she would study the hardanger fiddle. She’d be there for about three months, and would be seeking opportunities to perform with local music groups.

“When I was young, I used to attend barn dances and was enchanted by the echoing sound of this fiddle,” she said.

She would then head to Pune, India, located on the western side of India, where she’d study the Hindustani violin.

Then it would be on to Mexico, where she’d study violin techniques with a professor of music at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia. The professor, Julian Vazquez, “collaborates with four different styles of traditional music ensembles from musically significant regions in Mexico,” Murphy said. “These include Son huasteco, Purepecha music and ensembles from Michoacan and Guerrero.”

Next would be a visit to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where she would study the kamancha, an instrument similar to the Chinese erhu.

Her last stop would be in Ireland, where, among other things, she would learn traditional Irish fiddling and to better connect her violin to dance.

“Learning new styles of music will expose me to the histories, languages, values, and cultures of many countries,” Murphy said. “As I continue my path in pursuit of failure and growth, I will also improve skills like improvising, learning by ear, and collaborative composing.

“Most importantly, however, I will continue the long process of learning how to make people dance or cry through the voice of the violin.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu