In light of the terror, tragedy, and immense violence of this past weekend, I’d like to spend my column discussing the ways in which music can offer comfort during tumultuous times. On Tuesday, NPR’s All Songs Considered released a playlist entitled “Music for Healing.” The playlist is a collection of works intended to be a meditation of sorts on humanity and the global experience of music. It is inclusive in many ways: offering tracks from a variety of parts of the world and deeming varied styles equally, though distinctively, restorative. In response to the attacks on Paris and Beirut, this playlist endeavors to counter xenophobia, encouraging compassion and coexistence rather than retribution.
The hosts of All Songs Considered discuss a Twitter hashtag that encouraged people around the world to describe their personal experiences with concerts. For many, the attack in the Bataclan disrupted the safety and solace of the concert space, replacing the joy and excitement surrounding live shows with fear and mourning. Personally, concerts have allowed me to reach a state of presence and peace. A great two hour long show has the potential to leave me feeling rejuvenated for weeks, or even months. To threaten this experience is to potentially taint the entire culture surrounding it, and the hashtag sought to thwart this impulse by encouraging people to describe their best and most moving concert experiences.
Xenophobia is a natural response to global unrest. When afraid, we have the tendency to hold onto what we know and reject those who are different from ourselves; those who we do not understand. It’s easy and natural to make generalizations, to incite others with our closed-mindedness, but NPR’s playlist encourages us to reconsider. Their short collection deems numerous styles evocative, focusing not on difference but on the universal emotional experience of music.
It helps us to question our traditional ideas of beauty and art, and to find something stunning in cultures that we may not fully comprehend. Malian artist Oumou Sangare, performs a call-and-response song that makes me want to dance despite not understanding a single lyric. The hosts describe the sensation of seeing her perform, a woman who brings her audience with her on stage and encourages tangible engagement through singing and dancing during her performances. Artists like these create music as a collective phenomenon, one that cannot and should not be limited to a selective group of individuals. Rather, music, and the live concert experience, is about community, a collective engagement.
The playlist also includes Sufjan Stevens, an artist that I’ve discussed before and one that I hold near and dear to my heart. Stevens creates songs that feel utterly, and often painfully, intimate. The hosts describe their favorite live performances, and one host deems Stevens an archetypal healing artist. He refers to Stevens’ compassion for those in his past despite his turbulent upbringing, and the kind of openness and love he offers to his audience throughout his shows. Stevens demonstrates the intense emotional connection between artist and audience, one that cannot be replicated through any other medium. I will never forget sitting in the first row at a Ben Gibbard solo show and sobbing as he played “Transatlanticism.” Something about that moment brought me in and made me feel covered and warm, and the tears were a release from my own inner turmoil. “Blue Bucket of Gold,” the Stevens track on the playlist, similarly offers the sensation of being enveloped by warm sound.
Music is a form of meditation. It doesn’t force beliefs or ideology on us, nor does it push us in any political or social direction. Rather, it creates a space in which we can analyze and process the occurrences and experiences in our lives. It allows us to momentarily escape, though this passage through sound does not distract us, but, rather, it helps us cope. After a beautiful track or album, I’ve felt cleansed, experiencing a kind of lasting catharsis.
The playlist concludes with Eagles of Death Metal, the band whose concert was disrupted by gunfire and violence in Paris. The chosen track is unexpectedly uplifting, decked with major chords and positively loving lyrics that liken it to a Beach Boys track. You cannot help but smile in listening to it, and rather than creating irony, the track encourages us to be resilient in the face of tragedy. The playlist affirms my personal notion that despite all of the horror and calamity, we can find ways to strengthen the connective tissue between ours and other cultures through art and sound. Music works as our guiding post, leading us to realms of solace and encouraging us to relate to one another rather than retaliate.
Anita Alur is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Millenial Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester