Foto: Larisa Birta (CC0), via unsplash

Music as a Way towards a World Community

At the ceremonial act on the centenary of ifa on 10 January 2017 Mark Mast conducted the chamber orchestra of the Bayerische Philharmonie. This article was published in 'Global citizenship' by Roland Bernecker an Ronald Grätz.

By Mark Mast

In times of global challenges, including wars of religion, famine, migration, climate change and more, I ask myself in my work as a conductor what music can do towards creating a world community, and if music cannot be a way to make that community happen. From the point of view of a convinced European, I have to say that Europe is currently struggling to define its values, its perspective and its future. What does the idea of “global citizenship” mean now? What are the chances for a world community? What can the contribution of music be? What are the values that music stands for?

The conductor Hans von Bülow once freely reformulated a key Bible text, saying: 'In the beginning was rhythm.' To add to that, I would say, 'In the same breath, man was baptised by sound.' Rhythm is one of our most primeval experiences; we are literally born from and in sound – we are music. This has the practical implication that we can be touched and reached by sound and music beyond language and intellect, beyond origin and tradition, and beyond religion and nationality. Music brings us together and gives us a sense of belonging. Through a shared experience of rhythm, a song sung, or a major or minor chord we can rediscover ourselves. We experience our own cosmic nature and out most fundamental emotions can be expressed.

Music can be seen as an exemplary element of global citizenship. Conductors all over the world lead international orchestras, where musicians from many different nations play together in all the nations of the world. Musical collaboration is possible across linguistic and cultural borders and is an everyday practice. The healing and peace-giving power of music is not restricted to the musicians alone – listeners can also directly experience the blessing of music. 

From I to You and We

Every musical event that always begins with quiet develops over time, with harmonic, melodic and rhythmical contrasts of all kinds moving the music along to the moment when the confrontation can no longer increase. From this moment of climax on, all the contrasts are gradually resolved and the process returns to quiet. Thus we experience the end in the beginning. And we experience unity emerging from every new dualism, without necessarily being aware of this, a process that takes place peacefully and in full respect for the other position. We experience the quiet before the musical action and the quiet after the musical action. But this is now a different, a deeper and a more peaceful quiet. We are no longer the same. We have passed through confrontation, conflict and difference, and we have found peace. We have not blocked out or ignored anything, rather we have looked all the confrontation in the eye and experienced our own cosmic nature. I and You have met and We has come about.

[Translate to English:] Mark Mast, Intendant und Chefdirigent Bayerische Philharmonie © Bayerische Philharmonie
[Translate to English:] Mark Mast, Intendant und Chefdirigent Bayerische
Philharmonie © Bayerische Philharmonie

People of different origins can clap a rhythm together without any ado. They can hum a harmony or sing a song. These basic facts are at the heart of the mission of the Bavarian Philharmonic, in the form of an obligation to ourselves: 'The Bavarian Philharmonic strives to enable everyone to enjoy the renewing force of music in freedom and with a happy spirit.' Encounters, dialogue, peaceful interest in the other – all of this is implied here.

For these reasons, in September 2015 the Bavarian Philharmonic launched a project entitled Music Creates a Sense of Home, aiming to offer significant moments of integration to refugees through the medium of music. Since 2016, this project has operated under the auspices of the Integration and Tolerance initiative, run throughout the whole of the federal state of Bavaria by the Values Alliance Bavaria. This is not just another regular Bavarian Philharmonic project among many, as it rather reflects and exemplifies the orchestra's DNA, as a key pillar of our artistic and educational work within our social commitment. An important concept that I feel has not been sufficiently appreciated and recognised in this context is the idea of the 'significant experience.' Everything we experience takes place in the moment, in the here and now. It is like an endless chain of single experiences. A single significant experience will stand out as unique and direct, or as having the power to transcend the subject. We can all remember a first kiss, the first time we were in love, a special experience in sport or successes and failures in school, during our studies or at work. It is always a matter of a single moment, a key moment. It is always about the individual, the single person – about me.

People Who Make Music Together Do Not Shoot at Each Other

Making music and experiencing music can touch everyone without prerequisites and hurdles, directly providing significant moments of experience. And the essence of music and its experience is conciliatory and healing – peace giving. This is why it is so important to invest in music, in teaching how to play instruments, in music schools, universities and ensembles. We should be investing in orchestras and choirs, brass bands, accordion or drum bands, and oud ensembles, for as a famous canon says, 'Where people sing, settle down, wicked people have no songs.' To this we might add, 'Where music is made, peace and respectful encounters ensue, in harmony with our own origins and our own needs.' I maintain that people who make music together do not shoot at each other.

Music is made all over the world, and all over the world there have long been musical initiatives for better understanding between people and peoples. A prime example is certainly the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. The unique potential of music is also used by a Jeunesses Musicales International initiative called Ethno, in which people from different ethnic backgrounds meet and make music or copy each other's music. This is a very direct form of international encounter.

The project Music Creates a Sense of Home thus has many different meanings for each of us. We rediscover our own cosmic nature in music and we thus return home, while people who have been driven from their homes can engage with their new environments through their music and thus find a home in two senses – both an inner and an external home. Music should be a key element in any formulation of the guiding principles of global citizenship education. There is no other discipline that can so immediately, directly and cheaply reach people. We should make more use of this power and unique potential and see our world citizenship as a never-ending symphonic project of making music. Music is joined by dance and a celebration of language, and we are then transformed and our divine nature becomes evident – in peace and full of love and dignity.

Music creates a sense of home, music makes peace.

Global Citizenship. Perspektiven einer Weltgemeinschaft / Roland Bernecker, Roland Grätz (Hg.). – Göttingen: Steidl, 2017. – 192 S.

Aus: Global Citizenship. Perspektiven einer Weltgemeinschaft / Roland Bernecker, Roland Grätz (Hg.). – Göttingen: Steidl, 2017. – 192 S.