Submitted by: McNally Smith College of Music
by Jenna Anderson, Caiti Laszewski, and Daniel Heier (mentor: Janis Weller)
In response to The Savvy Musician Challenge #1
Are Musicians Truly Important? Most people immediately agree that doctors, farmers, and teachers provide essential services to our communities. But what about musicians? Is our work vital? What kind of important differences can we make?
Music entertains and heals. Music connects, creating identity and community. Music remembers, teaches, and inspires. Music motivates and moves. It is true that human beings do not need music to survive; it does not keep us nourished, it does not keep us hydrated, and it certainly does not generate oxygen for our lungs. But music feeds our souls. In no way are musicians just entertainers. They are dreamers, creators, and teachers; they are storytellers, historians, soldiers, and they are politicians.
Songs come from emotions within us. As long as we feel a connection to whatever we write about, we will write effectively. It is the feeling within any piece of music that makes music authentic; to get that feeling we must be able to see the world through other peoples’ eyes. In other words, musicians have a unique ability to translate human emotions into a song that describes how we feel in ways we are not quite capable of describing ourselves. When captivating musicians perform on stage, the audience pays attention to every move they make and every word they say and sing. Through song, musicians connect with people’s emotions, political opinions, childhood experiences, love affairs, and break-ups.
Music not only entertains, it also provokes emotion. In his novel A Man without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Music makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it.” An upbeat song will surely break the doldrums of a dreary day or a monotonous job. The USO sends entertainers, mostly musicians, to raise the spirits of the Armed Forces. It is essential that soldiers keep their morale high for their own state of mind while dealing with the stress of being stationed overseas; bringing in musicians is one way to do that. Musicians have the amazing ability to transform the burdens of life into art.
The emotions associated with music become tied to events in our lives. Whether we remember being four years old, listening to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band on vinyl or driving away from home to attend college with Tom Petty’s Learning To Fly blaring through car speakers, music builds memories and landmarks. In the movie High Fidelity, “music junkie” Rob reorganizes his record collection. When asked how he is going about this, he answers, “Autobiographical. I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howard Wolf in just 25 moves.” Everyone has a set of artists or music genres that we identify with. Whether the lyrical structure pleases our ears or we just really love that rockin’ guitar solo, we listen to music that helps us define who we are and the communities to which we belong.
Music creates a soundtrack to our lives and helps us understand who we are because musicians pass on folk stories and chronicle history. Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” tells of a youth on his way “To Yasgur’s farm” to “Join in a rock’n’roll band” and “Camp out on the land” and “set [his] soul free.” We do not have to witness history to write about it effectively – Joni Mitchell was not at Woodstock–but that song clearly demonstrates the attitude of that time.
Our childhoods are filled with song. The use of melody and rhyme as mnemonic devices taught us basic grammatical skills and history on shows like School House Rock. Growing up, we did not only learn music from our teachers, we learned life-long lessons too. Lesson one was that music is hard work. We learned that it takes an incredible amount of discipline to learn and master an instrument or a difficult piece of music. We learned to strive for excellence. If we wanted to be in the best ensembles, we had to practice. In marching band, we rehearsed for hours out in the summer heat and came in before school to rehearse more. We learned responsibility. We learned to be on time for the sake of the ensemble. Most importantly, we learned to enjoy what we do and have faith in ourselves that we can do it.
As musicians, like politicians, we have the opportunity to represent the opinions and ideals of entire groups of people through a song. A great example of this is the genre of protest songs. These songs detail the life of the underdog, the person fighting for change in his or her community. Some of them speak of specific events, but others are fairly general, crossing the boundaries of age with ease as new conflicts arise within each new generation. Music has affected large social and economic situations. Author/sociologist Artemy Troitsky said, “The Beatles…have done more for the fall of COMMUNISM than any other western institution.” The Beatles may have been just a rock band, but they had 73 million viewers on their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Paul McCartney commented on his concert film In Red Square, “The Beatles was a phenomenon, but a phenomenon of freedom.” John Lennon’s song “Give Peace a Chance” was his protest against the Vietnam War. Before that war ended, a million people marched to the White House singing Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Sure, you can argue it was just a song. But this song became the voice of the people.
We believe music and musicians are essential to society. We dream, we create, we entertain, and in doing so, we speak to and for the masses. So when we are asked if musicians are vital, without hesitation we answer, “Yes, they are.” Lessons learned through music carry over into other parts of a musician’s life. Music trains the musician’s brain to think mathematically as well as artistically, and that can carry over into higher achievement in life. Musicians chronicle our lives in memorable ways that no one else can. For that we should not only consider them a vital part of our lives and communities but we should thank them and give them the support they deserve for everything they do for us.
McNally Smith College of Music is a small private college of contemporary music located in St. Paul, MN, where entrepreneurial, DIY thinking is part of the curriculum and embedded in the culture. Our essay authors include leadership from the student publication, The Decibel, and include majors in music performance and music business.