From time to time – more frequently nowadays – public television stations hold fundraising marathons. They run extended replays of favorite presentations, interspersed with requests for donation. I watched one recently, an old favorite of mine, Peter, Paul and Mary. What strikes me, and why I watch it over and over again, is that this is a type of music which seems to have disappeared. Peter, Paul and Mary, along with Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and others created music which inspired and powered the changes it was given to their generation to accomplish. These were not easy changes to make. The civil rights movement, for which notably Dr. Martin Luther King and others gave their lives, the movement for peace during the time of the Vietnam War, the movement for inclusion and diversity, the movement for human rights, internationally – these were all movements birthed or pursued in the sixties and seventies. It was the music which kept them moving forward, and which cemented the young, the movers of change, and the visionaries in one voice and surrounded that union with a protective aura difficult for divisive voices to penetrate. When the music ceased, the movements began to fall apart. Mary Travers and Pete Seeger have passed. Peter and Paul persist as they can, but generally, the pulse of these artists’ music has faded.
There is a general apathy to our modern times. Yes, there is passion and the call for change. To each generation is given a cause, shared with those visionaries who transcend generational boundaries. One such cause is the issue of climate change, and the necessity of restoring the Earth. Another is economic injustice, which condemns a large section of the population to perpetual poverty. Healthcare is an issue – including modalities which are not currently covered by insurance or priced so that the average person can afford them. The causes of peace, civil rights and human rights are not dead. Less politically active are those who call for a more loving world. However, the most vocal sound most of them make seems often to be impassioned pleas for funding, to match the nearly unlimited funds the negators of those causes can expend. The solid unity, the combined cry of the people seems to be missing, lost somewhere in the disillusionment of the times. The music has gone; the pulse of forward change is slowed or halted. We need our music.
John Kerry, at the funeral of Mary Travers, said of her that she “believed that songs can help make dreams into reality”. Her life and her work attest to that. At overnight summer camps, songs are a favorite method of uniting campers into a cooperative and mutually supportive group. During religious services, people often raise their voices in songs and chants. Teachers who want their students to remember will put the information into song or verse. Cheerleading chants are aimed at uniting fans in support of the team. We are hardwired for music. Music is all around us; why has it seemed to disappear as a motivator and sustainer of the changes that are given us to make? Why do we no longer hear the music that connects to our souls, grabs our attention, makes a home in our memory, opens us to cooperation with our fellows and gives us a willingness to expend energy and offer the sacrifices needed to accomplish change?
There is beautiful music today. Some of it inspires dancing. Some of it is anesthetizing, an escape from life around us. Some of it is soothing. lyrical. Some of it is simply rhythmic. Some of it is music that energizes us, gets us going in the morning. However, beautiful and varied though it may be, it no longer unites us in the same way. It is either entertainment, therapeutic sound, or escape. We can enjoy it with friends or alone – sometimes it is even a bubble in which to isolate ourselves. But, it no longer unites us to work together for a cause. It is a missing element needed for the forward progress of the creation of a society in which our species and our planet can survive.
I am not a musician. Other than adapting existing songs for children, I cannot create the living music we need for the times we are in. Somewhere out there is a musician who can. Most likely, there are numerous musicians. Take a moment and listen to some of the music that drove the sixties and the seventies. Notice that it is alive. Having done that, if you are a musician, feel the call and movement of the present, and allow your creativity the freedom to bring forth in your art the pulse and motivation for what is now. If you are not a musician, then please share with a musician you know, helping in that way to awaken us again. If you are an organizer, an activist, look for the musicians among you. We need our music to carry us forward, to inspire us to persist and to connect. Such music is a song of the soul.