When I was nineteen years old, I participated in a peace gathering between Jews and Palestinians that was held in southern Israel. We spent a couple of days discussing the political situation, and fantasizing about how things could be. I remember some of the ice breakers: Sitting around in a large circle and playing social games, sharing each other’s jokes, running a group-oriented obstacle course, and just on occasion, sitting around and singing with guitars. We were such hippies… I remember thinking, then, that none of these things really mattered: Anyone could play social games, anyone could sing songs together. Nothing would change until we faced the issues and really started to talk, at which point our differences would surely come into play. I actually scoffed at the idea of sitting together and playing our guitars, and then going home. But I did promise I would do what I could to make things better… whatever that meant…
Over the years that followed, I found myself in numerous situations where neither side was really ready to talk about anything. In moments like these, I began to ask myself whether music had some value after all - as a starting point. Music brings people together in a space where differences are actually helpful: They make it all the more colorful and beautiful. I’ll never forget what I heard from an oud player one night, on stage in Nazareth with two other oud players from the greater Muslim world, and a Jewish percussionist: “We are celebrating our differences!” he said, with a wide smile.
There is an energy that is shared between people who are sharing music - either playing, or singing, or dancing, or listening. It is an energy that precedes all of our mind games. It’s simple, and it’s so real. And it also has a healing power.
But even more recently, I am actually beginning to wonder about the value and place of music in a whole other way: I am beginning to believe that perhaps the conversations themselves - what we might call the “real”, “difficult” conversations - will only take place when we are ready to set aside our differences, rather than bicker about them. And if that is the case, then this leaves me with a curious image: People just sitting together, having set aside their disagreements…. and what? What would that look like then? Once the bickering is cast aside, what are we left with? It seems, in almost an amusing way, that this would look a lot like… me and the other nineteen-and-twenty-year-olds, young and “naive”, sitting around on the grass, and playing our guitars.
Not that there is nothing to discuss, for sure…. But it does seem to me, sometimes, that music, and simple shared experiences of mutual appreciation, is not just the beginning… It might even be where all this is ultimately going, in the end.
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The title of this post must be a quote, but I'm having a hard time figuring out where it originally came from - it's everywhere, with no credits. I know Jimmy Buffet paraphrased it in a song, but it wasn't originally his. It might be by Rebecca Burke... if she was the first. If anyone knows, please tell me!