Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.2- Music and Freedom

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

From folk songs to patriotic anthems, jazz to rock and roll, popular music has long expressed what it means to be American. … As a product of various traditions, talents, and techniques coming together in harmonious but also contentious ways, popular music is truly the soundtrack of the American experience.
-National Museum of American History (Smithsonian)

Music is rebellious. It is the expression of people’s greatest desires.

It can also be overbearing and reactionary; enslaving and a weapon.

Music has power. Great power. To play music is to participate in that power.

Music can be freedom.
1. The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
2. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
synonyms: liberty, liberation, release, deliverance,
Music lifted religious movements through chants, hymns, or Bach chorales. It gave slaves a moment of their own after relentless hours in the fields. Music has been the sound of revolt as portrayed in the musical, Les Miserables. It carries the voice of generations seeing injustice and speaking out through people like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Tupac, or Eminem.

Freedom is not something to take for granted as we so often do. It is too easily revoked, sometimes for seemingly good reasons. When that does happen, music has been and will be there to stand against such reversals of freedom.

I reflect on this every year as we celebrate the Fourth of July. So for today’s Tuning Slide on the day after Independence Day, just some thoughts to reflect on- music and freedom.

The expression of freedom that is Jazz improvisation mirrors
the ethos of the best parts of society.
-Paul Kreibich

[First, from the website, Jazz in America an outline in a lesson plan for teaching about Jazz.}
Jazz is really the best music to represent America because:

a. It is partly planned and partly spontaneous; that is, as the musicians perform a pre-determined tune, they have the opportunity to create their own interpretations within that tune in response to the other musicians' performances and whatever else may occur "in the moment" -- this is called improvisation and is the defining element of jazz.

b. In everything from regular conversation, to basketball, to everyday life, Americans are constantly improvising.

c. Improvisation is the key element of jazz.

There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble: individual freedom but with responsibility to the group. In other words, individual musicians have the freedom to express themselves on their instrument as long as they maintain their responsibility to the other musicians by adhering to the overall framework and structure of the tune.
Jazz in America (
The genius of our country is improvisation; Jazz reflects that.
It's our great contribution to the arts.
-Ken Burns

[More thoughts from another lesson on the Jazz in America website.]
Each player has the freedom to play whatever he/she wants. But, at the same time, each player wants to play something that will not only please himself/herself, but make the whole group sound better as well, enhancing the overall sound. Musicians work together on this, supporting each other while not compromising their own artistic individuality.

Jazz musicians realize that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each individual part is enhanced by the group, i.e., each individual player gets better and comes up with more musical ideas because of the others in the group. They need each other to accomplish their individual and collective goals. The music is better because each player is different; it brings something new to the music.
Jazz In America (
Music is freedom and being free is the closest I've ever felt to being spiritual.
- Ben Harper

Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, music’s revolutionary potential was part of my own personal soundtrack. From the folk protest songs to rock anthems, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” to Punk Rock’s anti-establishment cries, music’s power to inspire and motivate has been seen as part of these moves toward freedom. In Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Communist China, Western music, protest music, songs of freedom were often banned setting up even more of an interest in them. Nothing like telling a group or a whole country they can’t listen to something. It only enhances its power.

So whether it is listening or playing or improvising, let’s keep music alive- and revolutionary.

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