"I heard there was a secret chord..." *
Music has a strange kind of alchemy, an ability to transcend boundaries and nations; it can heal, comfort, bring people together and rouse the sleeping giant. It can bypass the head and go straight to the heart. Children learn to sing before they learn to talk, people of different cultures can sing together even if they do not understand each other's language; it is no accident that the Arab Spring was marked, in part, by thousands of voices raised in song. Music is the secret chord that vibrates inside all people. You only have to look at the crowd at a rugby match singing with one voice, or people at a vast stadium gig singing the chorus to the band's signature song to see the power in music.
Even in the days before globalised music networks and the ubiquity of radios, CDs and MP3 players, it was a lingua franca of sorts, a means of passing experience and knowledge across boundaries of geography, history and class. Is that still relevant today, with 24 hour a day news coverage, and information available at the touch of a button? What does music have that these things do not?
This afternoon, as part of the fabulous Norfolk & Norwich Festival, we took the kids along to see Dan Zanes and Friends, an American singer and his band, at the Theatre Royal. The show was great and everyone danced and sang along; but there was something else. The songs were drawn from many different cultures and heritages, from different parts of the States, Mexico, and even England. In the intro to one Mexican song, Dan talked about a future where the borders between the USA and Mexico would be open, where people could travel freely between the two countries. The song that the band sang locked that idea, that vision of the future, in my head in a way that nothing else could have. I may have been alone in this, but I suspect not. I checked out his website when I got home; after leaving Norwich, Dan will be heading back to Albany, New York to take part in a New Yorkers Against Fracking event.
Music brings people together in common cause like nothing else can, and singers, songwriters and musicians are modern day prophets, in the sense that they interpret the signs, look for patterns, and, in their music and lyrics, create meaning. Ben Sollee, another musician-activist uses his talents to raise awareness of environmental issues, not least the impact of coal-mining in his native Kentucky. I saw him last year at the UEA - check out the song "Something, Somewhere, Somehow" for a great example of his eclectic style.
People may say that a song never changed the world, but I'm not so sure. Music is like the hacker's lines of computer code, something that burrows into you, changes you from the inside out. If I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet against the power of music to change the world.
On the blog tomorrow - "Open your eyes, time to wake up, enough is enough" - the music of struggle, protest, and what's it got to do with Transition. Stay tuned!
* "I heard there was a secret chord", from Hallelujah, sung by Jeff Buckley