Part of my morning routine is to read the newspaper while eating breakfast. It can make one weary to read about terrorism, both domestic and abroad, as well as other acts of violence in our world. Violence is nothing new in the course of human history. Atilla the Hun was not a nice guy; the Viking raids were bloody acts; and the Emperor Nero was not known as Mr. Congeniality. Quite frankly, after I read the news I am tempted to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. Sometimes I feel like the violence of this world is so big that I am powerless to do anything about it.
But am I really powerless?
In response to another violent act, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein stated: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
But how can one person’s devotion to making music make a difference? I have always believed that music is powerful. Music can touch the depths of our being, causing us to feel joy in our heart or express our deepest emotions. We have all heard of or been part of stories like these: A student comes to her lesson angry or tense and, after an hour of making music, she departs calm and refreshed. A hospice patient who is agitated becomes tranquil after a musician plays at his bedside. A middle-aged woman who was suddenly widowed tells the organist that the music played at her husband’s funeral was the only thing that was able to unfurl the knots in her stomach. A crowd of politically diverse people at a ballpark forgets their differences for a few moments as they stand to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. A music teacher is surprised when a former student who never made it through lesson-book level two calls her and tells her how much music lessons meant to him as a child and that he is planning to start playing the piano again as an adult. A classical pianist performs at a prison and the people incarcerated there listen in silent rapture, amazed that someone cared enough about them to bring them music. The gift of music shared brings light and love into this world.
Music matters. Acts of violence are committed by individuals whose mental state has become deranged. Yet the human spirit has always needed to be refreshed by the beauty and expressive potential of the arts. I’ve often wondered what would happen in our society if everyone learned to express emotions by playing an instrument, singing, or learning to actively listen to music. Would a society that knows how to express itself through the arts express itself less through acts of violence? Might an agitated person reach for a musical instrument instead of a gun? What might society be like if people spent more time making music together instead of arguing ideologies on social media?
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Every day, thousands of individual musicians play and teach, bringing music’s gift of light and love to thousands of individuals in this world. Every time we touch someone’s life through the power of music we contribute to making the world a place of light— not darkness. It’s possible that a violent act may have been avoided because the light we gave through music may have driven out the darkness in someone’s soul. So, let us continue to bring light and love into this world by making music intensely, beautifully, and more devotedly than ever before.