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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Student Voices

Antonio Bardawil ’13

Photo: Will Kirk/


Antonio Bardawil, 18, doesn't consider himself a writer. He's a percussionist. So when it came time to compose his college application essay, he struggled to find the right words, and after perhaps 20 frustrating attempts, he sought solace in music—specifically, playing his drum set in the dark.

"It's the primal language," he says. "Every species communicates using percussion. It's a way to get feelings out, to liberate oneself."

As he was drumming out his frustration, Bardawil found inspiration in a Dave Matthews Band song, ultimately crafting the essay below. By fall, the Cape Cod, Mass., native was hitting the books as a freshman at Johns Hopkins, with a course load that included Arabic, Contemporary International Politics, Philosophical Classics, Political Ecology, and New World Slavery.

Bardawil came to Johns Hopkins to study international relations, and he says he's looking forward to becoming involved with theater productions on campus and taking music classes at Peabody. His interest in music goes back as long as he can remember—longer if you ask his mother. "She says it's been since the womb," Bardawil says.

"She says she was at a Dvorak concert and I was kicking around in time to the music," he says. "I think that may be slightly exaggerated."


Three Seconds of Philosophy

By Antonio Bardawil '13

4:11, 4:12, 4:13

These three seconds in the middle of "Crush" by the Dave Matthews Band represent the transition from a rather heavy improvisational solo section to the second part of the chorus, a light, delicate, ethereal bit. When I listen to them, they throw me into a torrent of thoughts.

In those three seconds, the band hangs in fragile balance, each musician playing his nuanced, subtle notes, communicating with his band, each careful not to step on the others' toes but to continue his intricate dance of musicality, each using the others' music as a source of energy, culminating in a perfect transition.

The drummer's part--five hits on the hi-hat, one on the bass drum, and one on the splash cymbal and snare--is, by itself, entirely unnecessary, a frill, a decoration. But it communicates symbiosis, change, and finally, peace.

I was playing the drums in the dark along with this song between crash-and-burn attempts at writing a college essay. I decided to take a break, drum to a familiar piece, and allow my mind to drift wherever the music led for a while before forcing it to focus once more. Unexpectedly, it was then that I realized what those few notes symbolized to me.

They are the result of human interaction and balance between the members of the band, the result of a deep, emotional connection between five people. An emotional song would be empty without communication. Is that not what music is, after all? Victor Hugo once said, "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent." I believe this to be the truest explanation of real music I have ever heard or read. But music would not exist without a human necessity for communication.

I am an oxymoron—a realistic idealist. When I was six I was asked what three things I wanted most in the world. I answered, "No war, no one to go to bed hungry, and no pollution." While I am quite a bit less naive now, my ideals have not changed, but rather I am more realistic about them. I know there will never be absolute peace, the ideal I still value most. But I am also aware that there are innumerable senseless problems drifting endlessly throughout the globe that we can do something about.

I believe that misunderstanding is the cause of most violence. Without understanding through languages (including music), between cultures, between people, violence will be ever-present. After understanding, there will be peace.

The world is a symphony. This is one of the reasons I love music. The musicians and the listeners are all inexorably linked to one another. Through music we are led to a higher level of human interaction. This interaction can be the foundation of positive and creative change. We can envision the transition to a better world, listening to the fourth movement of Dvorak's Symphony from the New World, the section where the melody is held by the raging brass, and then, gently, the strings take over and sing out calmly but firmly, and we are at peace.