When you travel, do you wish you could get off the beaten path and hang out with the locals? Millions of people go to Peru every year on tours to visit Machu Picchu, yet many desire a far more in-depth experience with the people and culture. Recently I had the fortune to talk with ethnomusicologist and master adventure guide Dr. Holly Wissler, an American woman who followed her dream to live in the Andes. She now offers a unique experience for travelers to connect life-to-life, heart-to-heart with indigenous Peruvians in her "Andes and Beyond" Music/Cultural tour.
What level of musical preparation does someone need in order to take your tour?
One does not need to have any musical preparation to take this tour! Last year I had an anthropologist on board who was not a musician. He just participated as he could, such as playing panpipes or percussion instruments. Often he was content listening to both the music and the discussions. We often discuss the meaning and signifance of the music with the musicians, or have casual conversations with them about their lives, so that it is not just playing music. In advertising this trip I specify on the "Andes and Beyond" Music/Cultural tour webpage: "One does not need to be a musician to attend, just a lover of music and culture." Having said that, the tour caters to any level of musicianship, so that everyone can find their niche and play as little or as much as they want to. That is my role as Director: to help everyone find their place within the larger scheme. I want to add that any age is welcome. On our first tour last year the ages ranged from early 20s to 70, students, professors, and anyone interested!
You are an American living in Cusco and have a PhD in ethnomusicology from Florida State University. What was your life path that led you this place?
I first moved to Cusco in 1982 and was trained as a rafting and trekking guide. I worked for some American travel companies in Peru, and then later in Nepal, for years. However, I was an avid flutist in high school and performed concerts regularly in both Cusco and Kathmandu. Then in my mid 30s, after 13 years of guiding treks in the Andes and Himalayas, I found I had become a little burnt-out on working in tourism full-time. So, I returned to university to complete a degree in flute performance. I inadvertently "discovered" the field of ethnomusicology that I was not previously aware of, and this career path became a way for me to combine my two loves: playing music, and my experience living and working amongst various cultures in the mountains of Peru and Nepal.