Many of us have been very disturbed and moved by the horrific images coming out of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. How could someone not be? As usual, those with the least to do with the conflict suffer the most. Homes obliterated. Neighborhoods destroyed and cities in ruins. Lives torn apart and millions of displaced refugees. Where will all these people go?
“So we’re told
This is the golden age
And golden is the reason
For the wars we wage…”
To paraphrase Don Henley, “(leaders) dwell on small details,” while the rest of the world holds its collective breath. Where will all this end up? When will all this madness end?
Unbelievably, there have been glimmers of hope, including flashes of musical brilliance.
Alexi Shmurak, a Ukrainian composer, while still living in his country, has begun organizing online concerts in an effort to combat the turmoil in his homeland. It’s a “beacon of hope,” as CNN calls it and a form of non combative resistance, as well as a way to rally his compatriots and give them some sort of solace and meaning to their lives. It’s an example of the power of music. It’s resistance without aggression. It’s people screaming in the wilderness, refusing to yield to forces that would take away their way of life.
The Ukrainian Symphony orchestra performed in open air, at great physical risk, giving some semblance of hope to their fellow citizens.
A piano player playing What a Wonderful World in the middle of a square, near a train station in Lviv, as refugees hurry past, as reported in the Huff Post.
From a video shared through social media, a concert pianist plays piano in the bombed-out remnants of her home, likely for the last time.
From a Global TV newscast, we see a piano player from Germany playing music for refugees at the Polish border with Ukraine, as they cross over the border in bewilderment.
Music is power. Music brings people together. It gives them hope. It makes them think and makes them feel. In times of great upheaval and stress, music is a potent antidote to a troubled mind and a restless soul. In times of sadness, it comforts and consoles. It’s a metaphysical shoulder to cry on.
In times of joy, music rejoices and helps us celebrate. Music forms an integral part of most of life’s milestones. Most weddings are planned around music. From the wedding march to dinner music that welcomes and soothes guests, to the traditional first dances, to the party music that punctuates the night’s festivities with an exclamation point.
Music is your first slow dance in a badly decorated cafeteria. It’s your first birthday as an adolescent and what you first hear as a newborn. It will even help your friends and family say farewell as you leave this earth.
Religious ceremonies are layered around music, in all faiths. Music is universal yet unique to all different corners of the world. A movie without music would lack soul.
I asked David Gamble, a friend of mine that I’ve known for decades, to share his thoughts on the Power of Music. We grew up in the same town and went to Youth Group together as teenagers. Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch through social media.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw School of Rock, starring Jack Black. The scene that stands out for me the most is when his character gives the in-class lecture about the history of Rock and Roll, and describes its many offshoots, permutations, and derivatives. My first reaction when seeing that movie years ago was, “That’s Dave Gamble! How do they know Dave Gamble?”
To my knowledge, David is not a musician, but he is one of the most musical people I know. A true connoisseur of all things rock. I only went to his house once when we were kids, but it is an encounter I will remember for as long as I live. Albums everywhere and the most awesome sound system. Dave lived and breathed music, and to my knowledge, still does. He really could give a dissertation on the history of popular music. Anytime we spoke, it always had to do with music.
Here, in Dave’s words, is his take on the theme of The Power of Music:
“The power of music is the escape it offers. It can clear your mind of the should-haves and could-haves. It helps you focus on what is in the moment. It can soar and swoop down into the valleys of your emotions. It can be the life-affirming, truly joyful water music from the Beach Boys, or provide a conduit for processing darkness with the cacophonous sounds of Joy Division or Public Image Ltd.
It is an escape to the world created by the artist, often to another time. One minute, it’s Louis Armstrong playing Royal Garden Blues in the 1950’s. Then it is the artful trajectories of Yes taking you Closer to the Edge in the 1970’s. It is the gritty nihilism of the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant or the social commentary of the Clash’s Police and Thieves. It can be as beautiful as Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney or as raucous as Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life.
All that possibility is the power of music.”