Public Music = Social Cohesion
As a life-long musician, I notice that my attention now gravitates to the cultural considerations of music. Since 1986, I’ve been a devoted participant in music and sound for health and wellness. However, with our world in uncertain territory, I’m wondering about the social needs of people, and how music might resume a primal function: that of serving the community. Perhaps these times call upon musicians to take on a different persona. Beyond entertainment, a musician’s role may include becoming a sonic champion for their culture.
Music Becomes Altruistic
For the last four decades, I’ve been examining the ever-changing face of music in the USA. Non- classical musical entertainment evolved from small nightclubs to stadium extravaganzas. But with the advent of large social challenges, a different role for musicians is necessary. No longer is success based on Spotify streams, corporate sponsorships, and Super Bowl performances. Now, music needs to become altruistic. The goalposts are changing. Since 2016, everything has accelerated.
In 2022, music is becoming about how many people you can teach to play guitar at community centers, flash brass bands on street corners, drum circles in the park, community choirs singing nightly. The new 21 st century musician understands that music is a critical component for a community’s psychological health, a tool for connectedness, the single most important ingredient for social cohesion. This is of primary importance: in hard times, people need to have hope and belief that better days will come. Music, as a balm, needs to be ubiquitous – like clean water and cool air.
My last two blogs/videos have been about the Music Matters Series; covering the abundance of music research in the last few years (Why Soundwork Research Matters) and about troubling cultural conditions – world-wide – that warrant our musical attention (The Culture Becomes the Patient).
This blog, Public Music (and an upcoming supplement), explores how global cultures have used music within a community context, mostly during challenging times. We know music and sound can be effective treating Parkinson’s, stroke, pre-mature babies, etc. However, these are all disease-oriented mostly-in- hospital treatments. The focus of the Music Matters Series is a different setting for the use of music: out of the concert hall or hospital room and back into the community. In fact, the goal is omnipresent music in the community. Why?
Because music helps people feel good, feel better. Music is known to be cohesive.
Cohesion is defined as the action of forming a united whole. Thesaurus terms include: unity, togetherness, solidarity, sticking together, continuity, coherence,
connection, linkage, interrelatedness. (1)
Social cohesion can be defined as the creation of “… a sense of collective identity and mutual support.” (2)
The Key Word is Togetherness
Last night, I attended an outdoor music festival with a few thousand people. (3) Knowing I was writing about the impact of music on crowds, I took particular note about what was happening in this open-air auditorium, and it certainly fit the definition of social cohesion.
Over the course of the evening, multiple musical groups sang about everything meaningful in the human life experience – loss, children, jealousy, betrayal, joy, hope, love, family–and surrounded within the container of sweet melodies and simple harmonies, we audience felt more collectively entwined as every song went by.
As these musicians played and sang, the collective sense of safety and memory created such a warm space that I bet anyone could have stood up and asked for help (money, transportation, shelter, even love, etc.) and many would have assisted them. This was not a Burning Man (all-is-one) kind of festival. This event was in Western North Carolina and the tickets were expensive. And yet, in this Country and Bluegrass setting, social cohesion was happening. Our entrained emotions were akin to a community therapy session: We’d all been through these life events and survived. This is where cohesion comes in. During this musical event, we’d had the experience of shared memories, in real time, without even knowing each other, that creates
empathy. Collective empathy brings connection. Mutual support comes from a sense of connected identity. Last night, a collective identity of two thousand strangers was formed simply by shared memories triggered by songs we experienced together. I didn’t know what the woman sitting next to me was specifically feeling. I didn’t even know her name. In fact, she barely seemed to even acknowledge me. But we were both riveted to the waves of music and emotion rolling off that stage.
It's no wonder people of every age crave the experience of going to a concert, a rave, or a music festival. Before cars, people would walk for days to hear music, and to be together. There was no other source of this communal experience, be it radios, computers, movies, etc.
Regardless of the venue, the power of musical events seems to accelerate with a group of people, not just one or two. It’s the communal resonance of a hundred or a thousand–experiencing bonding feelings–that builds a euphoric sense of togetherness, similar to an exciting sports event, a highly emotional piece of theatre, or a “come-to-Jesus’ kind of religious/spiritual communion. The key word is togetherness; a collective memory of being together.
And this is what music does best… it helps create a sense of collective identity. This can be in a neighborhood, a town, or a country. Building a sense of collective identity is one of the strongest things that musicians can do for communities in distress. Music cannot replace the loss from a flood, a killing, or war. But Dayvin Hallmon, creator of the Black String Triage Ensemble, speaks about the use of music and art to “address pain, foster healing, promote love, call for justice, and guard against hopelessness.” (4)
The Power of Public Music
“To guard against hopelessness.” How does one put a value upon that?
Now, how do you, as a musician, bring social cohesion to cultures in shock or disruption? It’s simple. Facilitate music a lot. Music, as a healing agent, should be filling the air in communities that are suffering. The more, the better.
Entertainment and joyful distraction are good by-products. Optimism and hope are even better. But social cohesion is the common healing umbrella, and that solidarity is formed by bringing people close, having them sing together, remember together, clap together. This is the power of public music. It doesn’t mean that concert halls or nightclubs close down. This is not an either/or choice, rather a both/and proposition. It simply means that you, as a musician, now add a bunch of new venues to your gig schedule. And you prepare a Public Music set list that is designed for one very special purpose: Social Cohesion. This is healing in the streets and it is what communities are going to need as cultures are battered with change and uncertainty.
Remember, as Dayvin Hallmon so poetically phrased it, you are there to “Guard against hopelessness.”
Out of the concert halls and into the streets. Out of the nightclubs and into community centers. Teach 100’s of children to play an instrument. Choirmasters, try fun and flash choral events. Start neighborhood choirs that perform in the parks. Drummers, bring rhythm to town centers.
The point here is to bring music, lots of FREE music, back into the community.
Historically, in marketplaces around the world, farmers bring food. That’s their job. To grow food for the community. Musician’s! Bring music back to the community. Musicians are sculptors of sound. It’s your job. Some people are farmers, some people are musicians. Either way, it is essential nourishment. My mentor, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, referred to the frequencies of sound as nutrient sound.
Grow food, sculpt sound, make art… Public Music = social cohesion.
Music is one form of vibrational therapy. What about tonal sound therapies in the
1. New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Apple Dictionary, Wikipedia
2. Social cohesion revisited: a new definition and how to characterize it. Innovation: The European Journal of Social
Science Research Volume 32, 2019 - Issue 2
3. Mountain Song Festival 2022, Brevard, North Carolina, USA.
4. TheBlackStringTriageEnsemble.org (Located in Milwaukee, WI)
Join Soundwork 21 Facebook discussion group HERE
Read Why Soundwork Research Matters HERE
Watch video Why Soundwork Research Matters HERE
Read The Culture Becomes the Patient HERE
Watch video The Culture Becomes the Patient HERE
Public Music video is in production and coming soon