For as long as I can remember, my grandmother wanted me to learn how to play the piano. I chose to play basketball and tennis and anything but the piano. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved music. In fact, I believe in the power of music. From singing hymns in church to Jimmy Buffett concerts in the summer, music has consistently moved the world around me.
One of the reasons I believe in the power of music is that it can be sacred or secular and still orient us to those things in life that are good and true and just. Early in my religious journey with Christianity, I learned about Paul and Silas who sang songs in jail, songs that busted open wide the doors of their jail cell to free them from their captivity. During both the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the Anti-Apartheid movement in Africa, it was the singing of hymns and songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and “We Are Marching in the Light of God” that encouraged and inspired people to persist with the movement. Similar to these movements, today, the music of people like Bob Dylan, the Indigo Girls, and John Mayer are only a few examples in our culture of how the power of music can unleash hope and freedom in our lives and in the world.
Mostly, though, I believe in music because it has the power to shape community. Some of us gather at concerts in both large and small venues where the music connects to our life in some way, and we are able to share that experience with hundreds and even thousands of other people. Deep down, I believe we yearn for this connection. Some of us gather for religious worship, and it’s the music that connects the prayers and liturgies; the sermon and the people. At Wofford College, where I work, we use many different gatherings as the place and time to sing the school’s alma mater. That tune connects students, alums, and friends of the college across the years that try to separate them. Music connects us across lines that often divide us, and that is what I am drawn to most about it. In some form or fashion, everywhere we go we can make music. Everywhere we go we hold the power to create hope and freedom and shape community.
I guess that’s why, after thirty years, about six months ago I finally took my grandmother’s wise advice and began taking piano lessons. My grandmother and I were not fiercely divided over this issue. We had not talked about it in a very long time, but I knew that taking piano lessons would bring us closer together. Not simply because it would make her happy or because she too knew how to play the piano. No, it brought us closer together because that’s what music has the power to do, and this is what I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.