Inaugurations, Women’s Marches, and the Social Role of Music
Though not in the spotlight, music will have a potent presence this weekend.
Posted Jan 19, 2017
I’ve found myself wondering what type of music we’ll hear this weekend. In case you’ve missed it, there are some pretty big events happening over the next couple of days—a certain Inauguration ceremony Friday followed the next day by a Women’s March. The purpose of each is vastly different, as are the people associated with them.
There is one guaranteed commonality between the two, and that is music.
How do I know this? I know this not because I’m involved in planning the festivities, nor because I plan to participate in them myself. I knew this even before certain musical acts committed to (then backed out of) participating in Friday’s festivities. I know this because I know about the role music plays in our social fabric. Here's what I mean...
As mentioned already, the two events we are about to witness serve contrasting purposes. As such, music will function in a different way for each one.
The Inauguration marks a transition of power as the country shifts from one chosen leader to another. For this occasion, music helps set an emotional space that is at times solemn and contemplative, or celebratory and party-like.
Obama’s first inauguration ceremony included both elements—the solemn and contemplative (Aretha Franklin singing “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and a performance of John William’s quartet “Air and Simple Gifts”) as well as the celebratory and party-like (with performances by Beyonce, James Taylor, and The Dead) ("First inauguration of Barack Obama," n.d.). This week’s ceremonies will likely be no different. (That said, the unspoken tone portrayed by the music from 2009 versus that from 2017 will arguably be as mismatched as the difference between Beyonce and Toby Keith.)
In contrast, the Women’s March is intended to highlight that diverse communities serve to strengthen the country, and that women (and children and partners) need to stand together to advocate for our rights, safety, health, and families. Music here will function in part as a social cohesive—to rally the collective by synchronizing their mood states—as well as to communicate their message.
Regarding the latter, there is a long tradition of music being used for protest or as songs of persuasion. Whether used to symbolize resilience under oppression (as Pharrell William’s “Happy” did a few years back for groups of young people in the Ukraine, Tunis, and Moscow) or to speak out in protest against military actions (think Bob Dylan and Joan Baez protesting the Vietnam War), music allows individuals and groups of people to express difficult thoughts and feelings in a socially acceptable manner. Given that the organizers (which, incidentally, includes a music director), believe in the power of the arts to shift and record social movements, there is no doubt that music as an art form will infuse Saturday’s events.
In addition to establishing a certain emotional tone or portraying a message, music will also serve as a reflection of the identity each group wants to portray. Whether intentional or not, the selection of musical work and artists who are performing over the next three days tell the audience (and with these events, the world) about the values and character of each group: the incoming administration and the new women’s movement. These musical choices will reach each audience, and it will serve as a record of the values expressed each day.
Music is not in the spotlight this weekend, but it's worth noticing. Because by setting an emotion space, communicating a difficult message, and reflecting a group’s identity, music will have a potent presence.
Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website, www.MusicTherapyMaven.com, for additional information, resources, and strategies.
First inauguration of Barack Obama. (n.d.). In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_inauguration_of_Barack_Obama