Where there is discord, let us bring harmony – how music unites us all

Music Unites us all

Where there is discord, let us bring harmony – how music unites us all

When the New York Philharmonic visited Pyongyang in February 2008, it did so under the leadership of its conductor Lorin Maazel and at their request an unprecedented live national broadcast was aired on Korean Central Television. Fast forward ten years to 2018 when some of South Korea’s biggest pop stars flew to North Korea for rare performances, attended by Kim Jong Un and members of his leadership team, that were designed to highlight the sudden thaw in inter-Korean ties.

Music as an instrument of peace is nothing new. The Salzburg Festival was founded in 1920 right after First World War    by the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the stage director Max Reinhardt and the composer Richard Strauss” as a project against the crisis following World War I, the crisis of meaning, the loss of values, the identity crisis of the individual, but also of an entire people. Through the festival, feuding peoples were to be reconciled – in Salzburg, the city von Hofmannsthal called “the heart of the heart of Europe.”

The first memorandum on the plan of the festival in Salzburg placed peace and the belief in Europe at the centre of the project. This wonderful, timeless founding mission is still ongoing today.

A quarter of a century later The Edinburgh International Festival’s launch was a conscious effort to restore morale after the end of the Second World War. The idea of a Festival with a remit to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” and enrich the cultural life of Scotland, Britain and Europe took form in the wake of the Second World War. The idea of creating an international festival within the UK was first conceived by Rudolf Bing, the General Manager of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, and Audrey Mildmay (wife of John Christie) during a wartime tour of a small-scale Glyndebourne production of The Beggar’s Opera.[1]

Rudolf Bing co-founded the Festival with Henry Harvey Wood, Head of the British Council in Scotland, Sidney Newman, Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, and a group of civic leaders from the City of Edinburgh, in particular Sir John Falconer.

At a more personal level, music has for long had the ability to unite people of different cultures, for music transcends language and its sounds and rhythms can move those of different backgrounds.

Two years later across the Atlantic in Aspen, Colorado, the Aspen Music Festival and Music School was launched in 1949. It has since grown to be a training ground for young-adult classical musicians, drawing more than 600 students from over 40 countries, with an average age of 23. While in Aspen, students participate in lessons, coaching, and public performances in orchestras, operas, and chamber music, sometimes playing side-by-side with AMFS artist-faculty. When there last Summer I witnessed at first hand the extraordinary growing together of young people from so many different cultures around the world and the power of music as a universal language.

Here is an example of music at work, establishing a means of communication less than two years ago:-

“The first morning at work I was placed in a room with 8 children with various disabilities, then left alone to do something with them. Thankfully, my Music Therapy professors have taught me well, and after 2 minutes of realizing how little Thai I knew, I was able to facilitate a Music Therapy session. They knew “Doe a Deer” from The Sound of Music, so I taught them motions to go with that. Before long, we were dancing around the room together, pretending to be elephants and snakes to the music. They asked to share their music with me as well, which I eagerly accepted. Without the security of language for me to communicate, I found myself more reliant on the music than ever before. That day I was reminded of this important, stunning reality: Music transcends all differences, whether it’s an extra chromosome, a neurodivergence, language barriers, or cultural differences. How powerful is that?!”

– Leah Weigel of Berklee College of Music on her experiences of working in Thailand 2016