What is the difference between famed country & western singer Hank Williams’ soulful, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; contemporary songwriter Paul McCartney’s haunting Beatles song, Yesterday; and the timeless gospel anthem, Amazing Grace?
In terms of their ability to encompass the full spectrum of emotion: none – no matter the genre. And what’s great is that music can mean different things to different people – even different things to the same person – at different times in their life.
Each one of these three songs has elicited within me – at one time or another – immeasurable gratitude that I had these to fall back on during times of deep personal loss, a retrospection of life, and a renewal of faith.
Truthfully, I can’t imagine a world without music. Can you?
Music can also speak for us, when our own words inadequately fail us.
“I met a girl, who sang the blues / And I asked her for some happy news / But she just smiled and turned away.” –American Pie by Don McLean
I remember the impromptu musical television tribute after the tragedy of 9/11. A nightmare in our collective psyche, the artistic community came together for a North American broadcast that soothed and galvanized our will to carry on.
Also, who could forget the worldwide telecast of the late Princess Diana’s funeral attended by royalty and seen by billions around the world? Once again, it was music, We remember most her friend, Elton John, and his special lyrical rendition of Candle in the Wind as the most touching tribute music can grant.
The importance of music in our world can be seen everywhere – except, as of late, in our school system.
Mark, a long-time public school teacher and friend, explains that music (and art in general) is a like a beautiful rose that administrators want to “prune back” when times get tough. He asks: what part do you take away? The stem? The pedals? It’s like living in a world devoid of colour.
When you focus only on certain things, students suffer from a diminished interest in school– some are even dropping out of the educational system altogether. The result is a workforce of young, jaded citizens, which no society or business can afford. Therefore you end up losing what you’re trying to protect – costing us more in the long run.
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
— Albert Einstein
Bono, lead singer of activist Irish rock group U2, has said that “Africa is literally going up in flames and we’re on the sidelines holding a watering can. History, like God, is watching what we do.” All the education in the world – as important as it is – will not help our world, unless there is a will to do so.
Today’s problems require engaged citizens who are critical and creative thinkers. In today’s technologically integrated and interdependent world, in order to be successful you can’t have one without the other. Where do you learn that, if not from an early and all-inclusive education?
Our global community also needs increased co-operation and communication; soaring above the plethora of languages, the arts – like music – can enable that to happen. If “all roads lead to Rome,” why not use them all for the world’s betterment?
So when people ask, “With all the world’s problems, isn’t music just a ‘nice to have’ optional extra?” I can fall back on the timeless lyrics of Leonard Cohen–
“I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”
Fred Parryfredparry.ca 2011