Music as Religion

A few weeks ago, I went to a Snatam Kaur concert as part of the local “Caravan of the Beautiful” festival. In addition to enjoying this angel-voiced singer’s music, which is ubiquitous in spas and yoga studios, I was touched by a comment made that music will someday be the universal religion. As an American who was raised in a minority religion, the Jewish faith, I have always been keenly aware of my “otherness” in American culture. Now as we watch a resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiments from the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy to the koran-burning fire storm to the recent firing of NPR/Fox News contributor Juan Williams for his apparently out-of-context comments about his fear of Muslims when he boards a plane, it’s hard not to wish for a religion of music that will bring people of the world together with a shared love of beautiful and transcendent sound. In celebrating his 70th birthday this month, people throughout the world have come together to celebrate the timeless message of John Lennon, “imagine all the people living life in peace,” yet we continue to live in a highly fragmented and fractured society, perhaps now more than ever. Do we lack a shared vocabulary that can help us communicate broadly? Or is that shared vocabulary perhaps only communicated through the arts?

I was struck once again this month by the comments of world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp who spoke at the USF Women, Leadership, and Philanthropy luncheon. Before her remarks, students from the USF dance department performed divided by gender. She suggested that the choreographed piece that was exclusively male was about war, and that she would love to see the expression of aggression be diverted through the medium of dance. To me, this resonated with the comments at the Snatam Kaur concert that we are seeking a universal religion as we progress. Are we hungering for a way to express ourselves peacefully through an artistic medium? Might we need the language of the arts to help us dialogue somewhere beyond words? Is the “theater” of war actually a way of expressing ourselves when other forms of communication break down?

The third thing that I think fits into this context is the film, “Social Network,” which tells the story of the founder of Facebook. As so many reviewers have pointed out, the poignancy of the film stems from Mark Zuckerberg’s own inability to connect with or trust his friends and classmates while simultaneously developing a website that has managed, in a few short years, to bring the world together. At one point in the film, someone mentions that you can “friend” people in war-torn countries that may not even have clean water but who do have Facebook.

Where once children had “pen pals” to learn about and identify with other children around the world, now people of all ages can “friend” anyone and can connect on multiple levels. Among the shared experiences on Facebook, we can learn what forms of artistic expression our friends most enjoy and can share music and dance with a click of a button.

As we head into a potent election cycle and the height of the arts season, might it be worth remembering what we all share as humans? Music and dance transcend culture and religion, and in times like these, that must be a good thing.

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