Darke County Center for the Arts has canceled all remaining events scheduled for March, and future programming is very much up in the air due to concern for public health and safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s at best sobering and perhaps frightening news. So in times like these, what does one do to at least maintain equilibrium and maybe even rise above the din of despair threatening to drown our future plans and actions. Well, I recommend surrounding yourself with music.
Music has the power to transcend the present moment, to inspire hope, joy, and solace. Music has almost always accompanied my life, usually simply providing a pleasing aural background but often lifting my spirits or sometimes moving me to tears. I have just completed reading a new book that confirmed my belief in the value and power of music and offers stellar argument for my beliefs.
The book’s premise is that our country has been shaped not just by our leaders and our politics, but also by the music which has helped carry us through trials and celebrate our triumphs. Beginning with the battle hymns of the American revolution, songs written during defining events throughout our history are examined and explored, often conferring a deeper meaning to familiar music that has forever surrounded us as the soundtrack to our lives.
The book is filled with meaningful quotes which are apropos of the current moment. Since those quotes are way more eloquent than words I can easily summon, much of what follows is taken directly from Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw.
The book addresses the history of our nation in terms of the music that inspired Americans to unite in common cause to achieve a more perfect union. “Song … sends messages of hopes and dreams in a country founded on hopes and dreams of a better life.” Our mission is “to hear the music that has lifted us from danger, kept us together amid tragedy, united us anew in triumph, and urged us on toward justice. The music of the nation reminds us where we’ve been, who we are—and what we can become.”
“Words cannot fully express what we feel; music comes closer. Music truly touches a chord with most Americans.” “If we share music, we might just shout in anger a little less and sing in unity a bit more.” In many cases, the same songs have been used by “both sides” of a movement, indicating the universality of music to reassure, to incite, to move souls. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying “We all share the same songs. They give people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.” The civil rights leader saw music as a tool for justice. “Songs are the soul of the movement,” he stated.
At this particular time of crisis, I am interjecting some irreverent musical advice (found on the Internet) to cope with the recurring need to wash our hands for the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. If you are sick and tired of that tune, the following 20-second snippets from Broadway and movie musicals may be helpful. One chorus to “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair” from South Pacific, “Popular” from Wicked, “My Shot” from Hamilton, “Circle of Life” from The Lion King,” or “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables will fill the bill in a less trite, more entertaining manner.
Music can help us get through this frustrating and perhaps perilous time. I close my argument with the final lines in Songs of America: “The song of America is not finished; the last notes have not yet been played. In that spirit, in that cause, now and always, let us lift every voice and sing.”