Exploring the Transformative Power of Musical Genres

Exploring the Transformative Power of Musical Genres

The Call of Music

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced divisions between people in a way I never had before. I found myself thinking very differently about things compared to some of the people I’m close to. This started happening all around me—between family members, friends, and colleagues.

“Fire Pond” is a recent song release that speaks about this experience in my own life—about the process of trying to stay in a loving relationship with someone whose opinions were painfully different from my own. It’s about discovering in myself something deeper than my own opinions and judgments, and seeing that something new became possible when I could take an interest in someone else’s experience, when I was able to listen and really stay open to their story, and when they were able to do the same for me.

A friend of mine once told me that taking an interest in someone is a form of love. I’ve found this to be profoundly true in this process, and it’s been an incredible opportunity to deepen my understanding of love. This process has been difficult, but it has also been one of the most significant growth experiences of my life, and one I’m deeply grateful for.

The Creative Journey

“Fire Pond” is the first song release from a new music project called “Love Bravely”—a cross-genre music group and creative community dedicated to exploring the transformative potential of the arts in our time. This exploration has been a central inspiration in my own life, and my artistic practice has been an entry point, continually showing me new aspects of working creatively and inviting me to deepen my understanding of what the arts can offer the world around me.

In my experience, writing music is a practice of listening—a practice of leaning my attention toward the potential of what’s newly emerging. When I can do this, and sit in the openness and uncertainty it requires, a different kind of space or landscape opens. This landscape is the terrain where new things come from—new inspirations, thoughts, and possibilities. It’s distinctly different from the landscape of our conventional world, where we encounter the things that already exist. The creative experience for me is like sitting at the borderline between these landscapes, and doing this as a continuing practice has helped me to recognize the essential and significant difference between the two—the existing world and the world of ever-new emergence.

This experience—felt and described in different ways—is one that many artists have a willingness to be in the unknown and to give our attention to what wants to emerge. This process isn’t only relevant for those things we call “art”; it is necessary for creating anything truly new in our world. And in a time when we are urgently in need of new ways forward, this practice feels critically important.

The Power of Collaboration

We can experience this process of exploring the creative landscape through the act of creating art ourselves, and when we experience other works of art. For me, an inspiring song, painting, or movie can feel as if it’s inviting forward that which wants to emerge from within me. Experiencing this is like being on the other side of the creative borderline. Instead of me listening in on the landscape of emergence, something else is pointing towards that landscape in me. I can begin to see myself both as an explorer of the creative landscape and as an extension of it.

In this way, the arts as we conventionally define them offer experiences that can help us understand that this capacity for hosting emergence and creating exists in all of us. We can begin to see that this isn’t only about the disciplines we call “art,” but about anything we engage with. In conversation with another person, for example, we can listen in this way—we can give our attention to that which wants to emerge in another’s experience and, in so doing, support this emergence. Our attention, interest, and love for this potential can weave a container or vessel which helps to host what’s wanting to come.

We can do this in our work, regardless of the discipline. We can listen for what’s ready to emerge, what’s truly new. We can practice the willingness to be in the uncertainty and the unknown required for this emergent space to open, beginning to see the discomfort that may arise as an invitation to let go of our desire to hold on to that which is familiar—that which appears secure, simply out of familiarity, even if it’s actually unhealthy or dangerous for us. We can apply this practice to our personal, community, and global challenges, and begin to recognize that we are all artists in a certain respect. The possibility of a truly new and different future may depend on our ability to embrace and celebrate this.

Navigating Challenges with Music

Faced with the challenges I encountered in relationships over the past several years, this was a practice I turned to. I sat to write, guided by these questions: What wants to emerge through this experience I’m having? What possibility is this challenge making available? I remember the experience as the lyrics and melodies of the song “Fire Pond” started to come. They felt like a gift, offering powerful new possibilities—an opening in the challenge I was experiencing, through which a deeper truth could find its way. This opening brought with it the potential for new thoughts, understanding, and inspiration. It was a new step in exploring love as a force for good beyond my own personal fears and judgments—a force I could continue to commit myself to and allow to guide me.

“Love Bravely” creates music, writing pieces, videos, community dialogues, and other creative collaborations. The initiative is committed to exploring new models for supporting the arts, such as “Gift Release”—a form that offers music with no paywalls and invites those inspired by it to support through direct contributions—and “Art Dispersal,” a collaboration with New York-based painter Laura Summer. For updates about this work and to support it, you can subscribe to our Substack mailing list or visit us on Patreon. To get in touch directly, email us at [email protected].

Diverse Genres, Shared Experiences

Music has an incredible power and presence. When you’re in its presence, there’s no looking away. It can focus your attention on a particular ceremony, for example, or act as a kind of social glue that helps a ceremony go on over the course of several days, keeping people’s attention focused. Music can also be used in a work situation, like in Africa, where people are working in a field, planting millet or threshing. Any kind of situation where you’ve got large numbers of people you need to coordinate, you can use music to do that.

Music is something that people can dance to. It can move them out of one frame of mind into another, from being separate people to being one group of people. It can remind them of who they are, and it can get them out of the state they’re in now into some other state. It transforms them. Why it’s powerful, we can’t say for sure. We just know that music moves people. In the middle of a church service, somebody will fall out, and a lot of that has to do with the build-up that’s been achieved through the music.

The power of music isn’t exactly something we can put our finger on scientifically, but we can observe it and talk to people and have them tell us what it feels like to be in a music situation that does something important. Music plays a strong role in ceremonies and rituals of all kinds, from the medicine dance of the Kung in southern Africa to the lifecycle rites and rituals that mark important moments of transition in people’s lives.

Bringing People Together

Large concerts, such as those by the Pittsburgh-based band Rusted Root, are highly interactive and transformative events that bring participants together in ways that often transcend the performance itself. The environment created between the band and the audience provides an emotional venue in which many magical moments happen. From the stage to the audience, you can see how the sound pulls people together into a collective, because they’re all moving to the same pulse. The music is providing something for them to move to, and they’re in agreement with the performers on stage—somehow, they’re all in this together.

Music can also play a fundamental role in religious expression around the world. In American Gospel music, for example, the music acts as a catalyst that draws the whole congregation together in active participation. The lyrics of Gospel music, being scripturally based, give a message of hope, but the music itself has its power from the musical accompaniment—the beat, the cadence, the rhythm. When you walk into a Gospel service, you may feel down, troubled, or distraught, but then the music begins, and it’s soothing and uplifting. You begin to feel that you have strength—that you’ve come home.

Music has the power to unite people in common cause. It is often able to convey a political message in stronger and more emotional ways than speech. During the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, music became a driving force in the struggle for social change. Songs like “We Shall Overcome” were more than just songs—they were the soundtrack of a movement, taking confidence and inspiration from the act of singing together.

Exploring the Transformative Power

As I’ve discovered through my own creative journey and the work of “Love Bravely,” the transformative power of music lies not just in the genres or styles themselves, but in the ways we engage with and experience music. Whether it’s the healing rituals of the Kung, the celebratory gatherings of the Epirotes, or the unifying power of Gospel and protest songs, music has the ability to transcend the boundaries of our individual perspectives and connect us to something greater.

By exploring the diverse musical traditions and genres from around the world, we can gain a deeper understanding of the shared human experiences that lie at the heart of music’s transformative potential. From the rhythmic coordination of communal work to the emotional catharsis of personal and collective struggle, music has the power to shift our consciousness, challenge our assumptions, and open us up to new possibilities.

I encourage you to delve into the rich tapestry of musical genres and cultures represented at the Musical Theater Center. Discover how the unique qualities and traditions of each form can inspire, move, and transform us in unexpected ways. By embracing the diversity of musical expression, we can cultivate a deeper appreciation for the ways in which music can transcend boundaries, foster connection, and unlock the transformative power within us all.

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