In our previous Music Matters blogs we’ve discussed and shown many ways that music is employed and deployed to express or mirror the problems and triumphs in our worlds, to question the status quo, and to bring people together in their hopes for change.
Today, in the midst of the horrible coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere have a crying need to feel united, to express their pain, to hope, and to fight for a better tomorrow.
Music is at the center of all these universal human needs. For example, the Academy of Country Music Awards was aired on a CBS special online, social-distance broadcast called Our Country. This live-streamed event not only showcased some of today’s great country music performers, it offered a chance for audiences to join in solidarity through song, and to thereby be comforted and uplifted.
In what ways are current artists singing about present circumstances? Consider some of the following online concerts, performances, and social media “thank yous” through music.
In another example, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” – written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas – is a one of many songs that propelled the Civil Rights Movement. But how might it now embody the needs of the great cross-section of people in the grips of the current plague? Nina Simone most famously covered this track in the 1960s, and throughout her career as a jazz legend. Numerous artists past and present also performed this moving tribute to freedom. Consider the following versions of this song and the many different ways it “means” to/for people, right here and now.
And there are more examples of music making connections across quarantined spaces.
And these youngsters in Africa dance and showcase their courage and strength and hope. Let us keep hope alive through music.
We are living in trying times. Around the globe, people are isolated, panicked, quarantined, unwell, and uncertain about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Despite this, and regardless of social distancing, there are wonderful stories that showcase the unification of spirit and soul. And many such stories include music making and sharing from professionals and amateurs alike.
As experienced via Twitter, Yo Yo Ma stated and shared the following:
This is for the healthcare workers on the frontlines — the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. Your ability to balance human connection and scientific truth in service of us all gives me hope. #songsofcomfort pic.twitter.com/s9e35RW03N
— Yo-Yo Ma (@YoYo_Ma) March 16, 2020
Similarly in Italy, and even though the country is on lock-down, people nationwide are coming to their windows to sing. Yes, sing! Singing for those who are at “ear’s length,” singing for themselves, and singing for all of us around the world to communicate that hope and joy are ever-present in the hearts and minds of those confined at home.
Also, like the above-mentioned model of Yo Yo Ma, and in order to provide comfort and solace in their community, two young Ohio cellists serenade on the front porch of a quarantined neighbor.
Speaking of confined at home, for public and private school students who are no longer be able to perform school concerts, performances, and musical theater productions, Broadway star Laura Benanti called such students to share their songs with her via social media.
— Laura Benanti (@LauraBenanti) March 13, 2020
We could provide dozens and dozens more examples where people are coming together via social media through music making and sharing. Let’s not forget music’s potential power to unite, communicate, and transform for good. Even when we are seemingly on our own, we are united and can be even closer. Indeed, while at home practicing social distancing, Pink treats us with her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” As she stated via Instagram: “Free concert slash piano lessons from my heart to yours … To make you feel my love 😍 rehearsals.”
Let’s remember we are responsible for one another, even at a distance…
It’s clear that we believe that music matters. And every day we’re reminded, again and again, how we’re not alone in this widely-held view.
And while we can argue about the merit – or not – of a show like “America’s Got Talent,” the following case about music’s significance in the lives of people was found there.
As reported on CNN, among other news channels and online media outlets, pianist and singer Kodi Lee shows how much music matters to him and to his mom through his rendition of “A Song For You.”
Rather than go into all the benefits and “goods” this mother and son experience from music making and listening and sharing, we’ll let this musicing speak for itself.
Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Iraq, Sudan—what these countries have in common is that they were, or are, on President Trump’s travel ban.
By way of musical reaction to the travel bans, The Kronos Quartet turned inward and outward and commissioned composers from those banned countries.
Or, they find an arranger to take on the challenge of transforming so-called banned persons’ music. Consider Jacob Garchik’s electric arrangement of Islam Chipsy’s “Zaghlala.”
Egyptian composer and keyboardist, Islam Chipsy, is a classically trained “street artist,” and is one of a three-member group, EEK. Billed primarily as linked to the electro chaabi and Mahraganat scenes in Cairo, Chipsy’s music marries EDM (Egyptian Dance Music) with an eclecticism that is as unique as it is fearless.
Chipsy’s “Zaghlala” is one of many pieces that is part of the Kronos Quartet’s project, Fifty for the Future—a project designed to reconfigure the landscape and cultural, social, gendered representation of composers and musics known as “string quartets” (a domain traditionally considered Western European):
Drawing on more than forty years of collaboration with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.
Kronos’ Fifty for the Future … commissioned [an] eclectic group of composers – 25 women and 25 men – representing the truly globe-spanning genres of string quartet literature in the early 21st century. The project compositions are intended to be approachable by musicians of a wide range of accomplishment, from youth ensembles to beginning professionals. Kronos/KPAA has commissioned more than 850 works since it was formed in 1973, but Fifty for the Future represents the largest single artistic and educational project that it has undertaken.
According to the program notes for “Zaghlala”:
If Kronos Quartet had a motto it might be something like: Taking string players to places they’ve never been before … Jacob Garchik’s surging arrangement of Zaghlala (Blurred vision caused by strong light hitting the eyes) … not only transports intrepid string quartets to the ecstatic milieu of a Cairo nightclub, but the chart also literally turns one ensemble member into a drummer, adding percussive drive to the tune’s lapidary churn. As part of Fifty for the Future, Kronos’ ongoing project to make new music works readily available to aspiring string ensembles, Garchik’s score is accessible free on the Kronos website, “where you can see how the piece can be played in such a way that each one of us can be the drummer,” says David Harrington. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every string quartet player in the world could be this Arabic drummer?…
Part of Egypt’s thriving underground music scene, Chipsy’s EEK trio has carved out a singular sonic niche distinct from the electro-chaabi artists who are almost required at wedding celebrations. Raw and lo-fi, his music is both virtuosic and unabashedly hand-crafted: “There’s a certain way that he plays where he takes his fist and slams it into the keyboard that feels so visceral and exciting,” Harrington says. “There’s also this sense of fun and abandonment. I can imagine thousands of people dancing.”
All of the composers’ music that is part of Fifty for the Future showcases fearless energy, determination, passion, and a will to be. Witness this music for change for yourself, as the Kronos Quartet heads to Europe and returns to the United States to perform music from banned countries.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. And that’s reason enough to consider some connections between music, mothers, and their children.
By the last trimester, an unborn child has fully functioning hearing. An unborn can recognize a mother’s voice, and can differentiate this voice from any other. As Ruth Fridman explains, singing to an unborn child establishes “a prenatal bond which contains tenderness on the part of the parents to be, a promise of protection, and the wish to see and hold the baby in their arms . . . It is of great significance for babies to hear music . . . during the gestation period. The mother’s emotional expressions benefit both herself and her baby.”
Moreover, parents and other adult caregivers are predisposed to interact with their infants by means of emotionally charged proto-musical vocalizations, or “motherese” (sometimes called baby talk, parentese, and so on). Motherese combines variations of pitch (melodic-type contours), timbre, rhythm, and accents that are the sonic building blocks of more sophisticated adult singing (such as lullabies). Because humans acquire the ability to distinguish changes in pitch and loudness in utero, it’s not surprising that infants learn to match some proto-musical elements after repeated parent-infant interactions.
Caregivers use motherese to sooth, arouse, communicate, and play in caring and loving ways with their pre-linguistic infants. The musical-affective characteristics of adult-infant interactions establish and strengthen emotional bonds between caregivers and infants. Motherese also includes proto-musical play, and proto-musical play gives infants a way of engaging in and acquiring the foundations of social competence and confidence in a safe, risk-free, enjoyable, and participatory context that is fundamental to the development of their social cognition and “domain-general cultural competence.” If such emotional bonding or “primary intersubjectivity” fails to occur via early motherese and proto-musical interactions, infants may suffer.
The values of motherese are clear. In a highly social species like ours, an infant’s chances of surviving depend on “fitness” beyond physical fitness, namely, “cultural fitness” and social-emotional fitness. These qualities follow from parent-infant bonding and primary intersubjectivity and anchor an individual’s ability to interact cooperatively with others and contribute to group cohesion.
There are numerous projects around the world that support the above. For example, in a women’s prison near Oporto, Portugal, early childhood music specialists help incarcerated mothers learn lullabies they can sing to their infants to promote mother-infant bonding.
Additionally, meet “The Lullaby Project.” According to Carnegie Hall:
The Lullaby Project pairs pregnant women and new mothers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies, supporting maternal health, aiding child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. In New York City, the project reaches mothers in hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Extending across the country and through several international pilot programs, the Lullaby Project enables partner organizations to support families in their own communities.
Hear Rhiannon Giddens performing one of the lullabies, “Mansell’s Waltz,” from the new album, released April 20, 2018 for Decca Records.
On August 16, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. stated these prophetic words:
What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.
Yes, power without love IS abusive. As hopeless as things may seem at any given point in time, we should turn, again, to Dr. King who urged: “Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. … Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”
Can Music Help?
As we state in Music Matters, music making and listening can contribute to a sense of cooperation, bonding, and interrelatedness. The Playing for Change organization knows this well, and takes this even further. By uniting diverse musical communities through song, the group also values and appreciates the integrity and diversity of the musical fabrics of various musical communities.
As the organization states: “Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” The organization travels the globe “filming musicians in their natural environments … spreading peace through music … creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.”
What might the world look like if we all honored and celebrated each other through song?
We have faith in the future; most of all, we have faith in all the peoples of the world. So, in celebration of each and all, we hope “Gimme Shelter” will further inspire faith.
“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” ~ Irish Proverb
Given that it’s the holiday season, we thought it important to ask, again: Why engage in music education? One answer is that music education potentially paves the way to a “good life” — a life of happiness, creativity, fellowship, personal meaningfulness, self-knowledge, care for oneself and others, ethical relationships, and other values that occur at the intersection of music making and human life. In combination, these values make up the ancient Greek concept of “eudaimonia.” Music education philosopher Wayne Bowman puts it this way:
Music, and therefore education in it, is crucial to human flourishing, or eudaimonia as the ancient Greeks called it. Music teaches us things about our common humanity that are worth knowing, and renders us less vulnerable to forces that subvert or compromise human well-being. Studying and making music changes who we are and what we expect from life.
Do we know examples of music education that can lead to eudaimonia for every person? Yes. There are many. Here’s one.
Music and a “Good Life”
Meet music educator Adam Goldberg. Goldberg teaches at PS 177 in Queens, NY, a school that serves exceptional children. The mission of the school is based on its “new core standards” or CARE: Communicating, Applauding, Researching, and Educating. All these “standards” are, frankly, what good teaching-and-learning should do: harness the potential of the entire community to help students be their most complete selves, both now and for the future. Goldberg sees music making as a fundamental means for achieving this important lifelong goal.
Through active music making, Goldberg’s students not only achieve musical understanding. They achieve a pathway to eudaimonia, and a shared engagement with/for others through music.
Thank you, Adam Goldberg!
Thank you to all music educators who care for others and their communities…
Excited to join the Rhode Island Music Education Association at their Conference: Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education. There, we’ll be speaking on: Advancing Social Justice through Music Education.
Common sense notions of “social justice” imply the uncovering of injustices, imbalances, and untruths in order to support and promote a more equitable social order. Beyond conventional wisdom, what is “social justice” and can we conceive of social justice and “artivism” for music teaching and learning in concrete ways? Our presentation will focus primarily on philosophical underpinnings for advancing social justice through music education. But we will provide practical examples and strategies for justice-ing music teaching and learning.
Come join us!!!!
PROVIDENCE, RI – On Saturday January 13, 2018, the Rhode Island College Department of Music, Theater, and Dance, the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, and the Rhode Island Music Education Association will co-sponsor a conference titled “Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education” in the John Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, Rhode Island. Designed for music educators at all levels, this conference will combine national, regional, and local experts in the fields of music education, social work, and community-driven arts programs to explore how to meet the musical and social needs of the diversity of students in southeast New England.
Topics will include social justice, behavioral supports and resources, and social and emotional learning, among others.
For more information, a detailed list of sessions and speakers, and to register for the event, please visit www.rimea.org/pd. The $40 registration fee includes lunch. College students may register for a reduced price of $15.
To learn more about this event, please contact: Dr. Robert Franzblau, Professor of Music, Rhode Island College; 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI 02908; Office: 401-456-9514; [email protected]
In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?
Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.