What is it about music that brings people together? There are musicologists and music philosophers that could give very detailed scientific answers about this topic, but that is not my point today. I'd like to relate some of my personal experience with how music has connected me to people. As you will see, some of these people are quite different from me in their background, worldview, culture, and lifestyle, but we still found a common denominator in music.
Music has connected me to more people than I can count. While I can't provide an all-inclusive list of music connections I've made, I can see that music has connected me to people in the following areas:
Why not start within the four walls of home? All through my growing-up years, I connected to my own family through the music that we made together. This continues in my married life as my wife and I have performed together and just enjoyed singing songs around the house. Could we have quality relationships without music as a bonding factor? Of course we could. But for my family, music has been an activity that brings us together in a spirit of harmony, literally. My family does many things together, and we enjoy various pursuits. Music is just one common factor that has caused us to spend meaningful time together. From squawking out some of our first instrumental songs together, to singing together in four (or more) part harmony, musical memories at home are some of my fondest.
I have worked a variety of different jobs as I have moved along my career path. But in nearly every instance, I was able to connect with people in my workplace through music. As I worked in a sheet metal fabrication factory, the workers came from a wide variety of backgrounds. But some of the moments that brought us together were the times when we'd burst out into a song that we all knew. We sang TV show theme songs, patriotic songs, and kids songs from our childhood memories. Not everyone sang, for sure, but those of us who did had a real-life connection experience that was just plain fun.
When I worked in an office setting, I remember first being introduced to one of my favorite music listening websites, Pandora, by a colleague. We shared favorite songs from our personalized music stations and helped each other discover new music. This was another music sharing experience that created a connection that was not related to work, building genuine friendships that have lasted beyond the days of clocking in and out together.
I went to college to pursue a music degree, it's true. Many of my classmates were fellow music students. But my musical connections in college didn't end when we left the classroom. I sang and played in music groups consisting of both music majors and non-music majors. The guys in my college society group formed a barbershop quartet and we won our college contest two years in a row. Only one of us (me) was a music major.
The college events and activities that involved music are far too numerous to recount. Me and my fellow students studied music together, attended performances, performed on stage, performed in small groups, and sang impromptu in the college dorms and while we worked our on-campus jobs. Music strengthened my relationships in college in countless instances. I not only formed closer relationships with the students I performed with, but also made connections with each audience for which we performed.
Singing as a congregation, in choir, and in special music groups has helped me to make closer connection with many fellow church members through the years. Times spent together in worship are sweeter because of the songs that are such a poignant expression of our shared faith. Each time I stand before my church congregation to sing, I make a connection with them that is centered around the truth of the message that I am sharing through God's gift of music. Lifting our voices and hearts together in song draws us closer to God and closer to each other.
In foreign countries and cultures
Some of the memories that I will keep for the rest of my life are times when I have made connection to people that are from far away places. This past spring I was privileged to be part of a men's chorus group that traveled to Beijing, China and Pyongyang, North Korea to take part in a music festival and other music performances. For videos showing a bit about our trip, see these video links (CNN Interview Video and Pyongyang Performance Summary Video) For people that I thought of as being so "different" from me, there were similarities that surprised me. In particular, when we sang several Korean folk songs (in the Korean language) as part of our concert repertoire, the appreciation and warmth of the native audience could be felt on stage. As we got to know some of our translators and guides on our tour in Asia, we learned songs from their culture and they sang songs that we knew. By the time we left, we parted not as mere visiting performers, but as friends.
What is it about music that connects people in such diverse areas of life? I'm sure there are many ways to explain it, but I attribute it to this: that God has placed His image within the heart and mind of man. God is musical, and has given man the ability to use this gift of music. While man is sinful and needs to come to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, he retains part of the image of God, which includes music. This attribute is universal, not limited by language, culture, or occupation. This is how we can connect to anyone through music.
What are some of your favorite experiences of connecting to others through music? Please leave comments and add to the conversation!
Rick McDonnell is the founder and head blogger at Harmony Passion. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Voice Performance. Rick has enjoyed singing with numerous quartets and chorus groups including barbershop groups, church groups, and other community music groups. He has also performed several roles in musical productions including Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore and The Pirates of Penzance. He currently sings and plays tuba with the Sons of Jubal, a men’s chorus and brass ensemble comprised of music ministers and other church workers from the state of Georgia. Rick and his wife Bethany teach music students in their home studio and at their local arts center.
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