MUSIC v. MESSAGEby Richard B. Harper
Highgate Springs, Vermont
We may be most familiar with the singer as activist after the Viet Nam protest songs but consider that some songs of 1917 rallied the spirit of America and others called for isolation (I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier) even as we entered World War I. Labor ballads inspired workers to fight to unionize. Jazz music was once thought to corrupt the entire Greatest Generation. Liturgical music calls people to grace. Country songs including bluegrass tell of people going up or going down. Environmentalist newgrass is self-explanatory.
Listeners sometimes disagree with the message. Perhaps they think political criticism has no place in "entertainment." Perhaps they think inspiration is not "art." Perhaps listeners who disagree with one message should tune in to another. Or start a different band.
Popular music has told stories, acted as propaganda, or to laud or protest someone else's beliefs for hundreds of years. As I write this, Franklin County is wrapping up the final events of the Big Three Music Weeks™. The final week features bluegrass in Alburgh, Renaissance music in Sheldon, jazz in Montgomery, and folk music in Highgate. I am sure there will be music with a message at each venue. And that is a Good Thing.
Papers on the power and politics of popular music will be presented in Philadelphia in November at the 2007 Conference of the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association.
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