…is how I began my multi-cultural educational presentation at the Peninsula Multi-Faith Coalition meeting this past Monday evening.
Starting with Native American flute and then moving to Australian Didjeridoo, I demonstrated this animating force and commented on the connections it has with all of the various faith traditions gathered in the room.
Then moving to djembe, a drum that was designed for healing (like a chalice) in Mali, I recalled that some people believe that our first religion, as humans, was dance, right after we started drumming.
(As a parent of two, and a current preschool music teacher in Peninsula Music Together, I can attest to the truth that we are all percussionists First!)
Another characteristic of African drummers is the awareness or belief that the rhythms are eternal and that what we are seeking to do is to create the conditions for them to come and inhabit us for a time, flowing through us for the good of the community.
After this I demonstrated how the music of Chinese, Arabic and African-American people can be played on the Hammered Dulcimer without retuning, simply by starting in a different place and playing the scales native to each.
Contradicting scholar Stephen Pinker, who once declared that music was “auditory cheesecake,” I shared what the rest of the scholarly community knows about the power of music:
It helps us get together to find partners to keep the species going.
It helps us build group identity and cohesion.
It can soothe infants (and perhaps keep them safe in times of danger). [The brain waves and heart rates of both mother and child have been documented to settle into very calm rhythms with the singing of a lullabye, a condition which lasts for more than 30 minutes after the singing has ended.]
I related a story from my own parenting: When my son, Zach, had night terrors, the only song that would calm him was the African-American spiritual, Wade in the Water (which we had just gotten done singing as a group.)
I shared Pete Seeger’s Preface in the new Rise Again Songbook, which I just received as a gift for Christmas.
“The older I get, the more I am convinced that if there’s a human rase in a hundred years, one of the main reasons will be that we found ways we can sing together. Different religions, different languages—the act of singing together makes us realize we’re human beings. We can’t put it in words. To a certain extent all the arts are important—the dancing arts! Cooking arts! Humor arts! Sports!
But if we’re still here I believe singing will be a main reason why. Not solo singing, singing together. Families can sing together. Strangers can sing together. People who think they hate each other can sing together.
And perhaps if we find the right songs, even people who are so filled with hate they are ready to pull the trigger on somebody—we can reach them too. Who knows?”
I then sang a snippet from a Russian lullabye: (phonetically spelled here)
Poost veg dah, bood yet solhnsay
Poost veg dah, bood yet nyaybah
Poost veg dah, bood yet mama
Poost veg dah, bood do yah.
May there always be sunshine,
May there always be blue skies,
May there always be Mama,
May there always be me.
It was been said that when the soldiers were called to the Kremlin at the end of the USSR, their mothers and babushkas lined the roads and sang this to them, and they didn’t fire upon the crowds.
Music is powerful. They found a song that kept them from pulling the trigger.
Then my wonderful spouse, Connie, joined me in singing Santa Cruz songwriter, Jon Fromer‘s amazing song: Gonna Take Us All
It IS gonna take us all, and we CAN do it.