The story goes that on Christmas Eve 1914, in the middle of a brutal WWI battle between the British and the Germans, the sound of gunfire was replaced by singing voices. It happened spontaneously, spreading slowly throughout the troops as the camps sang their favorite Christmas hymns. Sometimes they alternated songs, but when possible they sang together, as with "Silent Night/Stille Nacht" and "O Come All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fidelis." It was an unplanned night of peace, celebration, and music.
In June 2013, during what was reported to be tense protest efforts in Istanbul, an unknown German pianist named Davide Martello rolled out and unloaded a grand piano in the entryway of Gezi Park. He started to play and as he did, the crowd slowly began to calm down and listen. When he returned the next day, a reported 1,500 people had gathered to hear him play, which he did for the next 14 hours. It was an unplanned day of peaceful protesting and community music.
Ninety years separate the Christmas Eve celebration and the music in Gezi Park. But what happened is remarkably similar—music was used to calm a crowd and develop a cohesiveness between warring factions.
Perhaps this can be considered a different kind of protest song. There is a long association between music and protesting as music is a safe, structured, and socially acceptable way to express divise opinions and strong emotions. Arguably, some of the most celebrated protest music emerged in the 1960s and 1970s during the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the United States. "We Shall Overcome," "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A-Changin'" are some of the many songs that made people like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Pete Seeger household names.
Protest music has traditionally been used to speak out in dissent. The type of "protest music" from WWI and Istanbul is different, though. This music brings people together in a spirit of celebration and reflection.
It's music that reminds us of our common humanity.
Click here to read more about the Christmas Eve 1914 story.
Click here to read more about the music in Istanbul.
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