Can music change the world?

Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker // How does music affect the world that we live in?

Music is all around us, from new-age pop songs on the radio to classical piano concertos that our grandparents play during holidays. There is no escaping the diverse music influencing our culture. For many, music is a powerful force that affects us in several ways, including our mood, emotional expressivity, and even our identity. In addition, we’ve all heard the many studies that prove that music improves our memory and IQ. Clearly, it’s an influential part of individual lives, but the question recently arose in my mind: Can music alter the entire world?

There have been examples in the past of songs causing real change throughout history. Early instances of this include the many folk songs sung by African American slaves when the U.S. was still a young country. Many songs held secret messages that helped slaves escape to the free North. Harriet Tubman used a song called “Wade in the Water” to tell escapees that traveling in the water was safer because dogs wouldn’t be able to sniff out their scents.

“Wade in the water

Wade in the water children.

Wade in the water

God’s gonna trouble the water.”

-Spiritual folk song, “Wade in the Water”

We can see modern-day examples of lyrics holding hidden power in song such as “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Both are anthems that have helped shape world we live in now. “Imagine” helped open a dialogue about war, poverty, and equality during a tumultuous period in American history, when the Vietnam War was still raging. It was 1971, and protests of the Vietnam War had been rampant for the past 6 years. The release of Lennon’s epic anthem empowered peaceful protesters to continue the fight until the end of America’s involvement in the war two years later.

“Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.”

-John Lennon, “Imagine”, 1971

“Same Love” is a rap song with messages of tolerance and acceptance for people of different sexualities. This is a very hot topic today, one that has become a revolutionary civil rights movement of the current era. The song came out in 2012, three years before gay marriage was to be legalized nationally in early 2015. Since such a popular artist chose to tackle this controversial topic, many felt more willing to have open discussions about sexuality.

“Have you read the YouTube comments lately?

‘Man, that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily

We become so numb to what we’re saying

A culture founded from oppression

Yet we don’t have acceptance for ’em…

Gay is synonymous with the lesser

It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion

Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment

The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins

It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!

Live on and be yourself.”

-Macklemore, “Same Love”, 2012

Although the styles of these tunes are drastically different, all helped promote rapid positive social change.

On the other end of the world-changing spectrum, studies about the way music affects the brain have helped in the treatment of patients with brain damage or neurological disorders. Research by the Alzheimer’s Foundation showed that music can help dementia patients recall events from their lives through subconscious association. An article published by the American Psychological Association explored the ways in which music therapy helped sooth premature infants in the NICU. The therapy regulated their sleeping patterns and helped slow their heart rates. For adults with Parkinson’s disease, music therapy has been proven to make normal treatments significantly more effective. Many colleges, including Berklee College of Music, now offer degrees in music therapy, a job that didn’t even exist a few years ago.

In the areas of politics and health, two vastly different aspects of life, music has been extremely powerful. For these reasons, I think that music can in fact change the world. It’s an integral part of modern culture.   So, the next time you see injustice or societal flaws, try writing a song about them. You never know whose ears will be open when you do.

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