Yesterday’s tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon has rocked us as, once again, we’re confronted with violence of the most unthinkable kind. When I got the news, my first feeling was one of helplessness. My wife Theresa texted me, “The United States feels like a terrifying place to live. But I know we can’t live in fear.” I agree. It does feel somewhat terrifying to live here these days. And while I also agree we can’t live in fear, I don’t really know what my part is, as a simple musician, to make things better. I’m not a first responder. I’m not in an influential position of the government or part of law enforcement. What can I do?
I know I’m not the only one of us who thinks like this.
The problems of the world, problems that lead to this kind of act, are huge. Too big to even wrap my mind around most days. As such, huge things need to change in order to fix them. Things that go well beyond laws and government action. After every recent violent tragedy, I’ve thought that where change really needs to begin is in the heart – for real and complete authentic love for each other (that I believe comes through faith in, and the example of, Christ) to change us individually and as communities of people here in the United States and around the world.
And in that I find my answer.
Musicians, we have more power to change hearts than anyone. More power than the president. Than congress. Than any judge, commissioner, mayor, or police officer. These people are important and needed for writing, interpreting and enforcing laws that help keep us safe and create order. In times like these we need to know they are doing their jobs vigilantly and well. But laws and the criminal system have rarely, if ever, changed a heart.
You know what has? Music. Because music is quite possibly the most powerful force in the universe.
Yesterday afternoon, there was a tweet in my timeline from a musician I don’t even know. He had a singer/songwriter gig last night and tweeted the following to another singer on the lineup: “Looking forward to swapping with ya tonight. We’ll just do what we do after we get good news and bad news, play a song.”
This reminded me of a very poignant scene from Sting’s 2000 All This Time video. Sting and his band were set to play a show in Italy on 9/11. They got the news of the terrorist attacks in New York and suddenly were confronted with the question of whether the concert should go on. Sting gathered the band around a table and put the question to them. The conversation went like this:
Sting said, “What was to be a joyous occasion now simply can’t be. If anybody says to me, ‘Sting, I can’t play.’ I’ll say, ‘You’re right.'”
Chris Botti, the trumpet player, quietly responded with a question, “You don’t think there’s a positive display of hope in playing music? Still playing music, because, for me, it’s just more devastating the emptiness of everyone coming together and just… nothing happening.”
There were a few more tentative responses… then something changed in the temperature of the room and Chris spoke up again, this time more emphatically, “All I want to do is play. I think we should play. Because sitting around sucks.”
Singer Janice Pendarvis joined him, “You guys know I am really freaked out by this but I NEED to sing something. As tired as I am, as freaked out as I am, as horse as I am, I need to sing SOMETHING.”
As musicians, our first response when good or bad things hit is to grab our instrument and play or sing. It’s just what we know. It’s our emotional release, it’s our way of expressing that which we can’t express with simple words. And, while to outsiders that may seem narcissistic and useless, it’s really the most powerful thing we can do.
So, musician, I’m telling you. Get out and play. Anywhere. Play songs that remind us what beauty is. Play songs that remind us that we can change this world. Play songs that give us hope. Play songs that help us to cry and experience grief. But, for the sake of the world and the responsibility of your calling, do what you do after you get good news and bad news, play a song.