Sunday, November 8, 2009

What dollars and notes can buy

Someone told me recently that Paul McCartney was busking on the subway not long ago, playing for change. Not because he needs it, but I would imagine it was one way for him to reconnect with what he loved about music in the first place -- the way voices and instruments together explore emotion and make connections that speech simply cannot. Why is it that lyrics are so much more than words and melodies so much more than the sum of their note parts? There is something timeless, primeval, and universal about music. Some of my most intense emotional moments have occurred in small rooms with live electric violins, or large, cold fields with guitars. Perhaps there is something about an upright bass or a bongo or a banjo that refuses to be pessimistic or cynical and playing them requires a degree of openness, generosity, even vulnerability that we are rarely willing to broach in public otherwise. One of the things I miss about Charlotte is the Tosco Music Party. Who can stay doubtful of the world when John Tosco organizes four hours of musicians who each perform one or two songs interspersed with hokey audience sing-a-longs? For those willing to play along, music unites us on ground that is virtually uncontestable.

The 'Playing for Change' videos and mp3s have circulated on the usual digital rounds. In the videos, musicians from all over the world, recorded in their home countries and often in their own languages, perform the same song in virtual collaboration. The mobile recording studio and crew traveled from Santa Monica, where the project started, to New Orleans, Barcelona, Capetown, Tel Aviv, Dublin, on and on to create a montage of global sounds, created live, typically outside, often in rural or poor locations, and compiled via the magic of digital editing. Their objective is "to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music." Regardless of background or birthplace, 'Playing for Change' believes that music has the ability to cross boundaries and break down barriers. What they realized as well is that the popularity of their viral project had an untapped potential to give back to those willing to share the generosity of their musical talents, which led the originators to develop the Playing for Change Foundation. Musicians involved with PFC now perform shows around the world to raise money to build art and music schools in underserved communities "in need of inspiration and hope."

This Friday, November 13th, Playing for Change performs in Los Angeles at Club Nokia. Yes, there's something slightly odd about this intimate, grassroots, heartfelt effort playing in a place like LA LIVE with 2300 of your closest friends. But in the non-cynical spirit, there's also something great about great music, great projects, and great causes supported in great numbers. After LA, there are shows in Anaheim, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. Each one of these twenty plus shows might just equal a new school. You can also donate on their website, if you so choose or add them to your social network page to spread the virtual word about the work and the foundation. In a slightly less global and less overtly activist way, you can also choose to support local live music or tip those poor guys on the street corner trying their best to be musically heard. Both build optimism through beauty and shared experience and value -- through action -- those magical notes and lyrics that say just the thing you could never say without them.

**image borrowed from the documentary Playing For Change: Peace Through Music

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