By Matt Meyle – The Collegiate Staff
“Peace, Love and Rock n’ Roll, man” is often a phrase that will cause people to chuckle, or they might crack a smile and shake their head for a brief moment, but then they usually dismiss the hippie mumbo-jumbo and return to their daily lives. But if you really think about it, maybe those hippies were actually on to something.
For thousands of years, humans have used music to bring people together and its power has influenced the history books since its origin. The religious used songs to praise their deities and to create an environment of worship. The ancient Greeks used music to tell stories, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, and to enhance theatrical performances. Warriors used drums, trumpets, and phrases to unify their platoons and give them orders. American soldiers train with a military cadence which gives them rhythm and unity. Sailors would occupy their time on the water signing songs about sailing the ocean. African American slaves sang songs about their hope for freedom. Countries use national anthems to inspire a sense of pride and singularity. The Beatles used songs to inspire peace and love during the Civil Rights Movement. The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jimi Hendrix all wrote songs in protest of the Vietnam War. No matter your views, age, gender, race, religion, place of origin, culture, or intelligence level, it is nearly impossible to dispute the power of music as a tool to unite people.
The desire for people to listen to music and engage in it is seemingly innate. It is an extension of who we are as people. What we are unable to convey to someone with our own words, we are able to tell them through song. Giving others insight to our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes lyrics tell the deep thoughts and secrets we cannot express on our own. Other times, the melody, tone, and tempo of the song can dictate a certain feeling or emotion that we struggle to find words for. So the question arises: do people feel unified through music because of the feeling of belonging it gives them, a sense of comfort knowing they are not alone, or rather, because of its ability to insinuate a mood they connect with, and its ability to say the words we could not think of on our own?
Perhaps the question should not be, why does it unify, but instead how can we use it to unify?
Louis Armstrong was a world-renowned jazz trumpeter and singer, who gained popularity in 1920’s America. He was considered one of the most musically talented people of his time. People loved his songs and abilities, but many hated him as a person. Armstrong was an African American living in the south, born at the turn of the century, immediately following the American Civil War. Racial injustice was highly prevalent during his time of fame. He was beloved by his fellow musicians but was despised by most critics, simply because he was black. His music unified many within the black community and inspired hope that they could make a name for themselves in a world full of racists looking to cut them down at every turn. Today, Armstrong is regarded as one of the greatest American jazz musicians of all time, and his music and story helped to merge cultures.
Armstrong’s persistence resulted in cultural appropriation in America through music. Eminem is a Caucasian male who is considered a top tier rapper, in a predominantly black genre of music, Darius Rucker is an African American male country singer who sounds just like all the Caucasian country singers who also have a low, twangy voice. Alternative-rock band Linkin Park, from the early 2000s, combined rock and hip-hop to appeal to the masses. The band has been consistently at the top of the charts since their debut album, and even after the recent death of singer, Chester Bennington. Electronic dance music and house music have adopted the style of a heavy bass line from hip-hop and combined it with techno style music, resulting in an appeal from people in a spectrum as far as a gangster is to a gamer or a teen to a business professional. The combination of musical styles further incites unity between all listeners. Everyone can relate to something within the song resulting in a connection between people, there is a middle ground, a common interest, or an icebreaker into a friendship.
In the 1950s, America was still heavily segregated socially and everyone seemed to act a little too proper, hiding his or her true self. It was artists like Elvis who broke these social norms, wearing strange clothing, partaking in substance abuse, and drawing inspiration from African-American music. He began to inspire rebellion from being an uptight, straight shooter, to a sexy, wild and carefree American, who stood out as an individual. At the same time, The Beatles wrote songs like “Come Together,” which inspired a unity between cultures and people. The United States started to experience a culture shift and the music of the generation acted like a soundtrack for the social reformations.
It wasn’t until Jimi Hendrix started dropping jaws in the 1960s with his booming voice, fiery guitar licks, and flashy solos, that people began to respect African American musicians. His melodies paired with his message proved to be too powerful for even a bigot to disrespect. Although his time in the spotlight was short due to his sudden death at the age of 27, his influence and music have stood the test of time, bridging the gap between black and white, and young and old. Further promoting a unity between all people.
During the Vietnam War, many people in the United States were very much opposed to America’s involvement in the war. Musicians began writing anti-war songs and tried to promote peace through their music. Although there was a divide within the country, the music unified and strengthened the group opposed to the war. The songs gave the people a voice and indicated the mood of the American people. In 1969, the first ever Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place in New York. The festival established a new kind of way to experience music. People could come together for a multiple day event and set aside their normal lives to listen to music and bond with their fellow man. It inspired peace, love and rock n’ roll. Resulting in the hippie movement and the desire to simplify life. Hippies began living on communes to avoid the capitalistic lifestyle and to be able to return to a culture where everyone takes care of their neighbor. Although communes did not become overwhelmingly popular, they did establish a community between people against the typical American lifestyle and politics, unifying those who felt their voice would never be heard.
Today, music has reached a new platform of uniting people. At sporting events, a marching band plays hype songs to get the crowd involved in the game. The loudspeaker in a stadium plays songs to further excite the crowd or bring a certain atmosphere to the competition. Songs such as, “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, “Sandstorm” by Darude or “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation have become the ultimate crowd hype songs. Nearly everyone in the building is singing along and it creates a sense of togetherness between the audience and performers.
Professional baseball games have a 7th inning stretch where everyone sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” giving the crowd a sense of belonging to the team. After a championship game, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” might give the winning team and fans goosebumps from the feeling of achievement. After a Detroit Red Wings victory, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” plays over the loudspeaker inside the arena and those in attendance have a sense of pride in where they live, screaming in unison, “Born and raised in South Detroit,” but the power of music is found in more than just sports.
At most traditional American weddings, when the doors open for the bride to start walking down the aisle, typically, the “Bridal Chorus,” written in 1850 by German composer Richard Wagner, begins to play. Everyone in the room then stands up and turns around together, to view the bride as she approaches her future spouse, who she will be unified with through marriage. Unless the song is butchered, chances are there won’t be a dry eye in the room. This has been a tradition for over 150 years simply because the power and emotion the music put into the occasion. Then during the wedding reception, it may take a couple of beers first, but as soon as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” starts playing, your typically timid aunt might be standing up on a table screaming along, “So good, so good!” with her family and friends, and maybe even people she’s never met before. The power of music can unite almost anyone if we allow it.
In movies, television shows, and advertisements, music can make the viewer empathize with the hero in distress, the quirky situation your favorite character got themselves into or simply the lady in the commercial who just spilled wine all over the carpet. It promotes a mood and feeling of connection. It gives us a vicarious sensation of feeling exactly how the actor does in any given situation. Theme songs get people hyped up more than the show sometimes. You can’t help but crack a smile when someone starts singing the “Scooby-Doo” theme song, and you might even find yourself singing along. The “Star Wars” opening theme insinuates a feeling of triumph and adventure, it inspires people to want to run around swinging a lightsaber. When the “James Bond 007” or “Mission Impossible” themes play, people might imagine themselves crawling on the floor and hiding around every corner, pretending they are a secret agent too. Some people might actually stand up and act it out, rather than just thinking about doing it.