On the night of September 11, 2001, many people in Manhattan neighborhoods gathered and sang. They sang songs from grade school, patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” They gathered around firehouses, using music to get them and others through the horrible destruction of the Twin Towers. Later, the reopening of Broadway was celebrated as a big step in the recovery of New York. Perhaps the music helped them understand better than words the senseless act that took so many lives. Music helped ease the pain. Several days later everyone gathered at Lincoln Center to hear the Brahms “Requiem.” Brahms was asked why he omitted the word German in the title. He replied, “I would very gladly omit the German and simply put Mankind.” He wished to offer solace to everyone regardless of their own beliefs or backgrounds.
Music is often used in situations of conflict, including public protests and community gatherings for healing. This is nothing new. Freedom songs have long been used to rally against injustice. Patriot songs like those sung after the September 11th attack help to bring a nation together. In 1955 Jill Jackson and Sy Miller composed the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” It was initially written for and sung by an international children’s choir. This song is now well known and sung in communities, peace rallies, churches, schools, and anywhere there is a desire for empathy, nonviolence and unity.
When singing in unison, many voices combine into one. When singing in parts, each voice has its role and range, and together they create a beautiful harmonic tapestry. I wrote a song called “Hymn of the Universe.” One of the phrases in the song is “When I add my note to the universal chord I’m part of the total harmony.”
We can each do our small part through the music we listen to, sing, or play on an instrument. Harmony not dissonance, kind lyrics not violent, racial or sexist – these things will add some peace.
“Music is a wonderful medium to raise awareness about our collective quest for peace, justice, equality and dignity. It is a powerful, unifying language that can help build bridges and advance social justice in all of its forms.” – Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund.
This will be our reply to violence; to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” – Leonard Bernstein