We live in contentious times. Friendships can be blown to smithereens by holding a contrary political stance or religious belief, carrying strong social opinions, or simply disagreeing about whether the earth is round or flat. Is there a way to hold a healthy conversation while accepting differences, understanding that we are good human beings behind the words? How can we bridge the gap when conversation is polarizing or at a stalemate?
Music is the answer. It helps us see our common hearts, that universal energy that courses through all of us.
Case in point: I often perform for clients whose beliefs stand in stark contrast to mine. Perhaps the most blatant example includes an organization that supports big game trophy hunting in exotic regions around the world. They hired me to perform for their cocktail parties at their annual awards events.
These clients graciously invited me to dine during my performance breaks, and I advised them that I am a vegetarian. They laughed, wondering what on earth a vegetarian was doing performing for big game hunters. I simply explained that it was my meal preference, not an opinion about their company.
There was never any discussion of the rights or wrongs of big game hunting and vegetarianism. I loved playing cool Broadway standards for this fun group of people, and they loved the music that I played (Many old jazz standards from my Blue Jeans & Velvet album collection).
Plus, they were certainly kind and accepting during my costume malfunction—My beaded gown split all the way up to my waist in the back, so I tied a sweater around my waist to avoid mooning my audience! I think they were too busy enjoying the music to care.
Music is the common denominator that gives us that “kumbaya” feeling.
When I play the harp, I am acutely aware that I am just a conduit for this energy called music. I’m not the doer of it, and I certainly don’t own this magical energy. Like the sun, music is available to all to experience and bask in, and to reap its healing rewards.
Everyone can love harp music. Why should I restrict that pleasure to those that I happen to agree with? Without knowing anything about new acquaintances, a conversation about music can cement a friendship and be a lifesaver when common ground seems impossible to find. And the music itself can act as the panacea, the universal remedy, when others don’t conform to our core beliefs.
Music is also the remedy when we can’t even get a conversation started. My friend, Joseph, relayed this sweet story to me:
Liz is 12. She’s in the 7th grade. She’s one of my two daughters adopted from China. Her mother and I are separated and going through a divorce. It’s quasi friendly.
Liz’s oldest sister just left for college, so now she is the only child at home. So I phone Liz every night between 7:00 and 8:30 pm. Every time I got her on the phone, the conversation went like this:
Me: “How are you?”
Liz: “I’m fine.”
Me: “How are you doing?”
Me: “What’s going on?”
Liz: “I’m okay.”
There was a sequence of so many “goods” and so many “okays” and so many “fines”, and it was not okay, or good, or fine for me. I was frustrated.
So it just came to me to ask, “Hey, what are you listening to? Send me a playlist, okay? Give me ten songs that you are listening to that express what you’re feeling.”
I figured it would probably take a couple of days before she’d get me a playlist, but I got her playlist within the hour! I listened to a few of the songs that night before I went to bed. Then I bookmarked the tracks and cued them up to listen to on my commute in to work the next morning.
I was floored by Liz’s first four song choices—They had lyrics that showed that she is really developing into a beautiful young woman. And when I got to the fifth song, it was just buckets of tears for me: The song “Somebody’s Daughter” by Tenille Townes. It’s sung from the point of view of a woman who is driving home from work every day, and her last turn is a left turn onto a street where there’s a woman panhandling on the corner. And she’s wondering to herself, “How did she get there? What’s her name? Who does she know? She must be somebody’s daughter.”
I just completely lost it, but in a really good way. So many tears. I was in traffic at the time, so I’m sure other drivers were looking over at me thinking, “What’s going on with him?”
What I got from this was how much compassion my 12-year-old was feeling towards this person who was someone else’s daughter. Then it hit me that she’s my daughter, she’s not just somebody’s daughter.
It was really great to go from getting “nothing, good, fine, okay” to being moved to tears. Her music list connected with me. Then we went to dinner, and we must have sat there for more than two hours talking about her playlist in a wonderful, very deep, fun conversation.
I sent her my playlist, too. I started it off with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Teach Your Children”. Our music playlists opened up the conversation between us, opened up our hearts to sharing.
Have you used music to bridge the gap in conversation, bridge a generation gap, or just to find a bridge between political, religious, sexual, or social differences? What were the results?
I’m laying down the gauntlet, and a free CD is yours when you give this a try:
Instead of reacting to the polarizing comments on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, change the dialogue to music. Instead of digging your heels in about your opinion and contentiously arguing over family supper, change the dialog to music. Get the conversation started at a business networking meeting using music as the dialogue. Wherever the conversation is difficult or non-existent, talk about music. What happens?
In just a few sentences, chronicle the results of your experiment below, or mention a previous incident where the discussion or the performance of music bridged the gap and brought you closer to others. Your comment on this topic will get you a Free CD or Free download of any one of my albums of your choice. But you only have only two weeks before comment section for this article closes.
I can’t wait to read how conversing in music works for you!
(If you can’t think of anything to add but still want a CD or album download, sample and order them online at Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, or Facebook, or call 530-541-2575 to use VISA, MC, or PayPal to buy autographed copies. Ships via U.S. Mail and FedEx as fast as you need them. For you early holiday shoppers, they make fantastic gifts and stocking stuffers!)
Starting a conversation about music with an aquaintenance resulted in having a wonderful new friend. This friend and I get now together about once a month now and play our instruments together for a couple of hours.. We went from being casual aquaintenances to being friends! All because of having a conversation on music that began with talking about our instrument playing days in highschool.
I love your story, Mary! A conversation about music as a recipe to friendship! Thank you for sharing, Mary. I’ll email you about getting your free CD/download to you.
I love everything you wrote, and especially Joseph’s story about his conversations with his daughter. I have a brother in law who is politically the opposite of my husband and me. He gets really charged up when the subject is politics. Needless to say, we don’t talk politics with him. But my husband, brother-in-law, and I are all musicians, and all love music from the 60s and 70s , especially folk music. We love to get together and play our guitars and sing those old folk songs. Music really is peacemaking, healing, and a universal language!
What a beautiful story, Malia! Thank you for sharing your proof of how music doesn’t care about your political stance. I’ll be in touch via email about getting your free CD or album download to you.
Shared with a co-worker some music that I’m learning, she is into heavy rock music, me not so much. She shared with me the desire to learn how to play guitar and I shared my learning process with the harp. We now chat about different genres of music during our breaks. I am encouraging her to learn the guitar so she has that just for herself (once the kids are in bed)).
Thank you for sharing the story about the dad and his daughter, what a great way to connect with each other. Music speaks volumes especially when you don’t know what to say. Hope you have an amazing day.
Beautiful comment, Beth! Even this discussion with co-workers makes time fly at work. I’ll be in touch via email about getting your free album download or CD to you. Thank you again 🙂
I started going to a jam and didn’t know much. Linda sat next to me and became aware she could help me. She started by just telling me a few things about music, timing many topics. Because I am humble enough to listen her and I have become quite close. We share the love of learning multiple instruments. I can ask her anything and she explains in a simple kind manner. Music buddies.
Making a music buddy is cool! How did the music help you become close in other ways?
I play for people with memory loss. One woman in particular was a singer, and has perfect pitch. She can sing anything, but her conversation is limited to “hello,” “I’m fine,” and “How are you?” One day, I played two songs in the key of C, both with suspended chords. The woman, who often falls asleep while I play, opened her eyes suddenly and said, “That sounds a lot like the other song you played!” I played the the measures from each song which had the suspended chord and she got very excited, loved the sound. We now interact very much in the present, listening closely to songs for their similarities and differences in their chordal structure. She doesn’t remember it five minutes later, but the pleasure in the present is immeasurable. Music is a powerful bridge when people cannot engage in conversation!
I love your story! I have played for people suffering memory loss and in advanced stages, cannot even speak. But they will sing along with all the lyrics (knowing some lyrics that I don’t even know). Music is like a back door into the memory cave. I’ll contact you by email to get you your free CD/album download. Thank you again for your wonderful comment!
I love your idea! You give me a leg up on my plan to use my harp to encourage people towards being active about climate change. I already know the harp speaks directly to the heart, and that in itself may be enough to re-connect people with themselves and with Earth. Neighbors in the apartment complex are saying they love when I practice. (I’m about to move downstairs, and won’t have a chance to try your idea till next month.)
So cool! How do you plan to use music to encourage people to reconnect with the environment? I’d love to hear your game plan…