While you’re reading, I highly suggest you listen to Playing for Change, “Higher Ground”. You’ll see how it relates in a minute.
When I’m not coding websites and designing visuals for OIRED, my main interest outside of work is music. I sing, write music, and I have a little Jazz band that performs locally.
In the past couple of years, quite by coincidence, I have met a lot of singers and musicians from all over the world. For a week in late August of 2011, and again in late August of 2012, I attended a week-long workshop that attracts singers from everywhere (mostly in the developed world). I’m now acquainted with at least a couple of lovely folks from Australia; one cool guy from Tokyo; one awesome Jazz singer from South Africa; several Danes; a guy from Russia who works as an accountant for a chocolate factory; some wonderful men and women from Germany, France, the UK, and Italy; a young Brazilian man with a gorgeous voice; and a Chilean man who leads drum circles as corporate team-building exercises. One of the workshop instructors was born and raised in Lebanon.
In one short week, we all became good friends. I maintain that that’s one of the results of people singing together: rapid formation of cooperation and friendship. And in the months since, we keep our acquaintance alive through Facebook.
Getting It Together
And I’m not the only one who sees a connection between group music-making (and related activities) and “pro-social behavior.” There are books on the subject (like this one). But my favorite story is about some scientists in Germany who devised a cool experiment about it; some reporting on their paper can be found here and here. In short, kindergarteners were divided into two groups, one that sang together and one that just engaged in normal play. Then they were given a game to play that involved moving marbles from one place to another using a tool that, unbeknownst to them, was designed to make the marbles spill out. The sing-together toddlers showed a greater tendency to come to the aid of their playmates who lost their marbles.
(Contrast this with the money-empathy gap. Where singing, marching, and dancing together helps build bonds between people, having or even thinking about money helps us think only of our self-interest. Hmmm.)
Another one of the instructors of that workshop I like to attend is also active in Musicians Without Borders. They travel to war-torn parts of the world, teach music, and hold workshops, all with the aim of using “the power of music to connect communities, bridge divides, and heal the wounds of war and conflict.” And it seems to work.
So, while my colleagues in the office are engaged in the more practical matters of food security and agricultural education in the developing world, I’m fascinated with the less concrete—but certainly observable and measurable—effects of music.
Gonna Keep On Tryin’, ‘Til I Reach…
Which brings me back around to the video I linked at the top of this post. One of my colleagues here at the office brought it to my attention. Playing for Change is yet another organization that believes that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. They travel the world and make recordings like these, combining the contributions of musicians from, well, all over the world. And, for me anyways, it comes together so, so beautifully.
So what do you think? Do videos such as this “Higher Ground” inspire you? Does the idea of an Israeli singer singing pop songs in Persian inspire you? What place does music have in fostering international cooperation?