Music is Power

SBO Staff • May 2010Opening Notes • May 20, 2010

Music is unique among art forms in its capacity to empower people. It can transcend language and socio-cultural backgrounds, age and education, even mental and physical disabilities. It elicits emotion, whether from infants or the most educated among us, delving beneath thoughts and conscious feelings, to move us. Music, in one form or another, is truly something from which all people can draw strength.

One poignant demonstration of the power of music was reported recently by the BBC, in a piece on the 20th anniversary of Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union. In a video link posted to on May 2nd, it is noted that “an integral part of the fight for freedom was folk singing, which kept the [Latvian] culture alive during the years of Soviet rule.” These folk songs, called “dainas,” tell the traditional stories of the local people and played such a large role in affirming the Latvian national identity in the face of the USSR that their independence movement in the late 1980s became known as the “Singing Revolution.”

Of course, music has historically been a fundamentally unifying force. It can evoke a proud sense of identity and cohesiveness, whether in a national anthem or the songs of the Civil Rights movement even the “We are the World” charity song performed for African famine relief in 1985 and recently reprised for Haitian earthquake relief efforts. It can also empower students on a much smaller, simpler level.

The Guest Editorial article in this issue shares a heart-warming story of how Rebecca Sturgis-Biethman, a vocal music teacher in Bluffton, South Carolina, was able to use music to help boost one specific niche among her student body. Using a little bit of ingenuity and about $500, Rebecca was able to build a music lab for the students with disabilities that she often has mainstreamed into her music classes. “The beauty of this Special Education music project is that everyone involved comes out a winner,” she writes. For the first time, many of her students with mental and physical handicaps were able to experience the joy of making music.

Do you incorporate students with disabilities in your ensembles? If so, tell me how by e-mail:

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