Everyone likes music. Every. One. Music has the capability to unify people -- two strangers who might hate each other if they knew the other's inherited beliefs can nod along and even dance together to the same song on the jukebox.
I know a few things about this because I am an artist. I make music. I also serve at the Des Moines Music Coalition, a nonprofit with a mission to support the music economy of Central Iowa. I help run a record label that releases music solely from Iowa artists, Maximum Ames Records. I read a lot of stuff. My experience ends there.
An ideal community is a place where equal opportunity exists for everyone, and this can happen when music is present and integral.
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For a community to provide this environment, it must be supported sustainably by three pillars: a strong economy, a diverse culture, and a just society.
Why do these pillars matter?
1) The Economy
In our world, we have determined that money is the best way to symbolize each individual's contribution to a community. A policewoman protects her fellow citizen. The citizen contributes to her salary by paying taxes on the wages he makes as a barista. He serves a schoolteacher who is paid a salary to educate the policewoman's children.
Each of these people can use this money as currency to exchange with others for their skills and products. A strong economy is one in which people with various skills are valued fairly and are able to exchange that skill for, at the least, the money that will allow them to exist at a standard of living we deem acceptable as a society.
When the fundamental value of an individual's contribution is recognized by the community with the system of currency which history has deemed most relevant (yes, I'm talking about the cash) a place is one step closer to truly equal opportunity.
2) Diverse Culture
The pillar of cultural sustainability is important because it is at the core of common understanding. Our communities are filled of people from different backgrounds with different beliefs and different ways of looking at the world. This is the definition of culture. Culture is, fundamentally, who we are. It is communicated through creative expression; language, food, painting, architecture, woodworking, poetry, lawnscaping, music. The creative expressions that define a culture are also known as "art."
Cultural sustainability is achieved when each individual can feel free and even encouraged to truly express themselves artistically in whatever way they like -- not to be held back by false standards of what is "good" or "bad."
In my ideal community, the only bad art is that which is made insincerely.
3) A Just Society
You may have noticed so far that our pillars don't really stand alone. If they could, then any one of them might hold up our ideal community on its own. But our pillars can fall without the others.
You wouldn't try to stand your camera on a stick and hope it stands straight, would you? No, you put it on a tripod. My community stands on a tripod.
The pillar of social sustainability seems to be the most troublesome, though... How do we create a community in which a kid whose body looks different than most isn't bullied? A place where certain people don't have to work twice as hard to escape a dangerous neighborhood just to see their children slip back there? A place where that neighborhood doesn't exist at all? I think we do it by giving it the other two pillars to lean on.
We have, as a people, attempted to provide solutions to all of these problems, through government, non-profit organizations, individual action. But too often I think we try to address each of these pillars separately. A more holistic approach to building my ideal community is possible, and music is part of the answer.
Next: So why music?
Music should be at the core of the ideal community because it can strengthen every pillar.
Music is a universal language. It existed before life. It existed before fear. It existed before speech. It is in our speech. It's why mothers and fathers coo at their babies
Its undeniable value in our lives can be turned into money for musicians, promoters, venues, restaurant owners, engineers, instrument builders, photographers, graphic designers, stage technicians, lawyers, marketing agencies, filmmakers, app developers, and the list goes on.
It is already crucial to the definition of any and every culture in the world, and there is still room for many more people to express themselves through the music they make and listen to.
Beyond unifying people of different worlds for a moment in time, it can do even more for the pillar of just society. Because in the world where our local economy is stronger thanks to music, and in which people identify strongly with their culture and take pride in their community in part thanks to the music that defines it, there are more people who are able to and want to think about what they can do for their community as a whole.
A person who is proud of their community will care about it. They will do what they can to take care of it. Their care will provide opportunities for others to care. And when every person can and does care, we will be living in my ideal community.
Thank you very much.
Christopher Ford performs and records music as Christopher the Conquered. He performs Friday, November 7 at 331 Club at 10 p.m. Free show. Learn more about Christopher and his music at christophertheconquered.com.
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