There is power in a song. Music can change the world. Art in its myriad forms can change the world. It can threaten the status quo and instill fear in those in power. It can comfort the oppressed and offer encouragement and strength to those fighting for the dignity of their fellow man. It can enlighten and offer hope.
It is because of the power of art that one of the first impulses of fascist governments is to take action against artists. Rulers will ban certain types of art or threaten to imprison those who do not produce “acceptable” art. Fascists will do their best to quash dissent in any form and artists tend to be particularly adept at fomenting discord and encouraging discourse through creative expression. When art is outlawed, then artists become outlaws—willingly–and also remain the outsiders they have always been. Artists must create art. It is in their nature. When the consequences of their work can land them in jail they have no choice other than to become outlaws by being true to themselves and their beliefs. As a result artists are often the first to be imprisoned, beaten, or killed by repressive governments.
But artists tend to be fearless. Throughout history playwrights, composers, painters, and others have undermined authority through blatant exposés and subtle irony. In more repressive and dangerous times their radical ideas have been expressed through allegory that reveals the hypocrisy of kings, governors, and others. A single artist can be more dangerous than an entire regiment of guerilla soldiers. A group of artists can be more dangerous than an entire army of trained killers. A gun can kill one man at a time, but a lone artist can affect the hearts and souls of millions, eventually leading to the collapse of a government not truly supported by the people.
A song or other work of art can also bring incredible happiness, an ecstasy almost. There is a special kind of joy that comes from sharing songs, from gathering in a group with people of diverse backgrounds and singing together as one voice. When singing is used as protest it creates a bond that is as great as any soldiers’ bonds in battle. Deep and lasting friendships are formed. When many disparate voices join together as one in song human connections are enhanced and there is a power that reverberates and echoes across the hills and valleys of the human experience. It is the power of a unified people. Every day that the artist stands against oppression is another hammer of justice pounding at the walls of the oppressor. Like trumpets bringing down the walls of Jericho, songs of protest can cut away at those walls of oppression until they finally come tumbling down, and then the songs of freedom can be sung.
Callen, My comment apparently didn’t take down in the comments section of your blog page, perhaps my failing. I wanted to let you know I thought you wrote magnificently about the power of song, the cultural act. Your words are song power in prose. Best, Kevin Lynch I also shared your post on my Facebook page.