Recently, we’ve been listening to a stack of new Civil War-related CDs. Some are traditional Irish songs, some are traditional folk tunes. The great thing about music is its ability to draw us in. Whether the song has lyrics (the Civil War soldiers’ song “Tenting Tonight” or the modern song “The Day the Sun Stood Still” from the musical “The Civil War”) or is purely instrumental (“The Road Home” by Altan), music draws us in. Music evokes joy or heartbreak. It can make us cry for people we don’t know–even fictional characters!
Music can be a way for a nation to process events, just as we as individuals might journal to process a traumatic event. I recently heard that during World War II, one way to survive the chaos in the world was to write humorous songs, such as those poking fun at Adolf Hitler. In the wake of John Brown’s Raid in 1859, many songs were written about him.
A song can bring us together as a community–locally, nationally, or perhaps even across national boundaries. A song drew together the weary soldiers on the night of July 2, 1863 here at Gettysburg, uniting blue and gray in thoughts of home as they knelt in blood-soaked fields. There is certainly something special about music when it can draw such opposing forces together.
Perhaps the power of music is that through its beauty, grandeur, light-heartedness, and pathos, it draws us out of our selfish personal world and into a new experience where we begin to see and care about others.