Des de la Safor música, música, música i més música... poesia, poesia, poesia i més poesia... debat, idees, assaig i més debat, més idees i més assaig, ... però sempre amb música

dijous, 18 d’agost de 2011

Why music is important for civic engagement.

I have written several times about the need for music organizations to truly be a part of their communities. Staying on the edges without integrating with the people whom an ensemble serves is a risky way to run an organization in these days of declining donations and threatened government funding. There are myriad ways in which a group can do more to be a part of its community, but today I want to draw your attention to a new program launched by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - the Citizen Musician Initiative - and share some thoughts on why music is so important for civic engagement.
This new effort is about musicians “us[ing] their talent and passion for music to enhance the quality of life in their communities.” Some skeptics might wonder what value music can really bring, so let me expand on three points Yo-Yo Ma makes in a video on the Initiative’s website to explain why music is well suited to the goal of positive civic engagement and improving quality of life.
When working toward goals of eradicating poverty and illness, or improving child care and education, one is working toward something that is bigger than him/herself. The results of successful work in this area are always much more than mere statistics of lives saved, mouths fed, etc. Rather, the influence of successful civic engagement lives on and beyond through the lives of those who benefit most directly. In other words, we all benefit when the base of our society is strengthened; it is about more than the immediate.
It is similar with music. A piece of music played well is always more than the sum of all its notes. Music transcends the dots on a page and lives anew with each performance. Music also goes beyond its mere physical properties to touch and move us emotionally. It is also sticky, and stays with people well after the last note is played. In this way, music serves as a meaningful analog for civic engagement. It is a platform from which to teach people about the power of coming together to tackle large problems and that doing so has impact well beyond our immediate perspective.
A related point is that, like in civil service projects, it can be easy to get mired in musical details and despair that nothing good will ever come of the hard work it requires. But as Yo-Yo Ma points out, in music we must always hold two ideas in our minds at all times: 1.) the biggest picture possible (e.g. the whole piece), and 2.) the smallest moment (e.g. that difficult run). Because of this, music can act as a microcosm for so many other things in life. It teaches us to work through difficult times for the sake of the larger goal, while at the same time offering us a real sense of accomplishment by overcoming the individual hurdles on our way to performing an entire work. These lessons are critical for sustained and effective civic engagement.
Finally, music gives us important perspective on how we define success. There are always more children to clothe and more trees to plant. Civic engagement is never done. And so it is with music. Why else would the same musicians play the same music over and over again? In music and civil service, success is not a point to be reached but, as Yo-Yo Ma says, a living thing. Success is dynamic in these pursuits. This fact can make such fields difficult to tackle as our society drives so hard toward finite goals and markers of success. In reality, however, very little of life is actually like that. With the experience of music, people can learn to embrace a notion of success that requires 100% accuracy without succumbing to an objective standard. Music teaches us how to hold these opposites in tension with one another without allowing the structure to crumble. As a result, injecting music into civil service can strengthen and embolden those who might only be in for the short term. If people serve their communities as if their are preparing their own concertos, they may just see it as a lifelong pursuit and achieve much more.
We often think about music’s emotional power, but music is so much more than that. Music teaches us about ourselves and can help us achieve more in life by giving us experiences that prove our potential and prepare for difficulty. As Citizen Musicians we can do so much more than improve the aesthetics of a community and preserve its historic art. It seems now is an excellent time to dive headfirst into such pursuits.
You can learn more about the Citizen Musician Project here. And the Contrapuntist has some nice coverage of it here.
(Text by Grant Charles Chaput,