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Music as a universal language

I have my list beside me. Written on it are all the things that I need to complete today in preparation for the week ahead. The weekend always goes so fast and I never seem to get everything completed that I had hoped to. As per usual I am allowing myself to be diverted from the task at hand which at this moment is preparing an agenda for a meeting on Tuesday evening.

It is a warm, wet Sunday afternoon. The house is quiet. I am in my study trying to be focused and so far I am not being very successful. I have a CD playing in the background of Chopin’s brilliant piano compositions. The fire within has been ignited by the notes flowing from the speakers. It looks like that agenda will have to wait a little while longer.

I remember the first time I heard one of Chopin’s polonaises being played. It was on a black and white television movie about Chopin’s life. I was moved to tears. I thought it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.

Music has always had such a dramatic effect on me. It talks to me in ways no other form of communication has ever managed to do. It works when I am down. It works when I am happy. It stirs my emotions. I feel things I never imagined. My response to what I hear often takes me by surprise. Sometimes I just want to move my body and dance along with the sound. Other times I simply let the sound permeate every cell of my being and I let my being bathe in its splendour. Music talks to me. It heals whatever is ailing, it reaffirms whatever is good, and it gets the creative juices flowing.

I have no particular preferences as to the type of music I love either. Different types of music work for me in different situations.

Don Campbell in his book The Mozart Effect claims that music is rapidly becoming the universal language of the modern world.

The world is inherently musical. Cutting across all ages, sexes, races, religions, and nationalities, music is a language with universal components. Its adherents outnumber the speakers of Mandarin, English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, and all other tongues combined. Music rises above all income levels, social classes, educational achievements. Music speaks to everyone – and to every species. Birds make it, snakes are charmed by it, and whales and dolphins serenade one another with it. (p.10)

Reference: Campbell, D. (1997). The Mozart Effect. New York: Hodder.

The other day as I was walking back to work from a meeting I came across a busker performing. A lot of people were standing there listening. I was particularly drawn to a sign he had sitting alongside him. Below the sign was a map of the world and on it was marked where he had travelled so far in his journey.

Music recognises no frontiers

His message said so much to me …

Music is my life.
Language is not the only means of communication.
Music recognises no frontiers.

I looked around me and wondered what the people standing there were thinking and feeling. Did they read the sign? I looked at this man performing on a busy street corner in downtown Wellington. He was completely engaged in making his music. It was obvious he was doing what he loved. I know nothing about this man except that he pursuing his passion and I was inspired. His way of travelling the world may not appeal to the rest of us but none of that matters because he is doing what he wants to be doing.

I so wanted to stay and listen and enjoy the moment but I had to get back to work!

Busker in the streets of Wellington, New Zealand

Busker in the streets of Wellington, New Zealand

Then, this afternoon I read Garr Reynolds’ blog post about a speech made by US presidential candidate Barack Obama. Now how does this connect to music you might wonder? I suggest you read on.

I haven’t paid a huge amount of attention to what has being going on in the US Presidential election process but I have been very interested in who will win the Democratic nomination – a woman, who has already had a taste of life in the White House, or an African American male.

Inspired by a recent concession speech made by Barack Obama will.i.am, frontman for the Black Eyed Peas, created a music video, ‘Yes, We Can! ¡Sí, Se Puede!‘, inspired by Obama’s message of hope. I watched this video and thought about the messages communicated. I could have watched Obama give his speech in full in the traditional way (and I have since) but somehow seeing it set to music, and seeing all the different images creatively put together, added depth to the message. It was engaging. It made me stop and think. I found myself saying rather emphatically: “Yes, we can” and believing it. I was spurred on to find out more about this Presidential candidate endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.

Yet again, I was moved.

Here are the lyrics …

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes, we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.
Yes, we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes, we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes, we can to justice and equality.
Yes, we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes, we can heal this nation.
Yes, we can repair this world.
Yes, we can.
We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.
We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics…they will only grow louder and more dissonant ……….. We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check. We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.
Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea —
Yes. We. Can.

I love the message Yes. We. Can. It communicates to us on many different levels; as groups, organisations, individuals, as global citizens, as people with a conscience and a heart. We all can make a difference. Right here. Right now. The busker in the street in Wellington made a difference to the lives of the people he entertained. Just walking past someone and smiling you make a difference. It is not all about the big stuff. We can do it here and now in our everyday lives. If we all believe Yes. We. Can, and we all believe Yes. I. Can, imagine what could happen. Repeat this to yourself a number of times and feel its power.

We don’t have to speak the same language. We don’t need to be from the same culture. We don’t have to live in the same country. We can still communicate. Some things are universal. I am not American yet the message in this speech resonated with me because I can translate it so it applies to my world, my reality.

Inspiring others to action is a gift; the gift of a leader. As Garr Reynolds‘ says so eloquently …

To me the video is a reminder about the importance of inspiration. Leaders—and you are now, or will someday be, a leader—have a great many roles to play and responsibilities to fulfill. But great leaders inspire, pure and simple. There are many ways to inspire people (your group, your company, your country). Great communication skills are not the only way. Nonetheless, the ability to paint pictures with your words—moving people and inspiring them with your ideas and your vision—can take you far in this world. If you fail to inspire, they will fail to listen. Never underestimate the power you have to inspire.

Go out there and be inspiring. Don’t wait. Let your light shine so others may shine, and together we can all make a difference for others.

Yes. We. Can.

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