We know the power of music, and most of us believe that it can lead to world peace. Yet, how many of us use it to its potential? I had not until this summer when I did what I now believe many of us can do: bring the world together through songwriting.
As a cultural diplomat for the US Department of State, I create cultural exchange programs globally that are funded by our government. This summer, I collaborated with American Voices YES Academy and the Jakarta Institute of Arts, and created a camp for up-and-coming millennial songwriters of the ASEAN nations (i.e. Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand, etc). It was nothing short of life changing…for all of us.
Out of seventy-five applicants, I selected fifteen to receive scholarships from their US embassies and join me in Jakarta, Indonesia for twelve days. During that time, these strangers collaborated and wrote a total of twelve songs using the structure of my TrueFire course, 1-2-3 Songwriting. In addition, we gave two performances at the US Embassy cultural center in Jakarta, one private concert at the US Ambassador’s residence with distinguished guests from ASEAN nations in the audience, and a final concert for the public.
My students nailed it! By day three, five songs were written and two days later, performed at the cultural center. We completed another seven songs, which were also performed at the final concert, and began another three. You will hear most, if not all, of these songs one day as I intend to bring us all back to Indonesia to record these masterpieces.
What is more monumental than the quantity and quality of the music created, was the very fact that we did it together. One song was co-written and performed by a Cambodian, Filipino and two Indonesians—that translates to a Buddhist, Christian, and two Muslims. We had an amazing collaboration between two Indonesians—one “Ex” Muslim and the other, a Muslim who defends Sharia Law. We had a Muslim and Christian write a song that incorporated both of their countries’ traditional melodies and languages, at times woven together, and a sexy duet written and performed by a conservative Muslim and a Christian. Other than bringing them together in the first place, nothing was forced; it all developed very naturally.
One month later, they remain oblivious to their differences and express nothing but love and respect for each other (we have a very active Facebook group and Whatsapp chat). It is a genuine bond. They can’t wait to see each other again, record together, and collaborate on more beautiful songs.
If this does not prove that creating music overcomes humanity’s greatest barriers, I don’t know what will. While not all of us can travel the world uniting people and teaching music under government grants, any one of us can do it locally with an open mind and heart. There is no shortage of races, religions and cultures in most of our communities, and music relieves tensions on every level.
As musicians, we are empowered with a gift that can change the world. Use it.