Posted by: Randy Allgaier | December 6, 2008

In a Time of Darkness a Ray of Hope- Playing For Change

William Congreve wrote “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like music – it’s universal and it connects us. Often on this site I sound cynical, political and jaded. I am probably all of those things but I also have hope. After all, I have been an Obama supporter since January so clearly the matra of “Hope” resonated with my cynical heart.

But here’s a secret- I’m secretly an optimist. I guess every good liberal is; after all we believe in humanity’s better angels- so we are, by definition, optimists.

I am sure I am one of billions of people on this planet that has been touched by music. Beethoven’s 32nd Piano Sonata can transport me to some ethereal place, Wagner’s soaring themes can make my heart skip a beat, Sondheim can make me smile, Ella Fitzgerald can calm me and Barbara Cook can make me cry. Well honestly- a good performance of any peice of music can get me misty.

Playing on the theme that music transcends everything and has the quality that Congreve described, is an amazing project- Playing For Change. Playing For Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world with music.

It sounds a little naive, but I don’t think it is. If anything can bring us together it is music. I’m a convert.

PLAYING FOR CHANGE: PEACE THROUGH MUSIC brings together musicians from around the world — blues singers in a waterlogged New Orleans, chamber groups in Moscow, a South African choir — to collaborate on songs familiar and new, in the effort to foster a new, greater understanding of our commonality.

Filmamaker and Music Director Mark Johnson traveled around the globe and recorded tracks for such classics as “Stand By Me” and Bob Marley’s “One World” — creating a new mix in which essentially the performers are all performing together — worlds apart. Often recording with just battery-powered equipment, Johnson found musicians on street corners or in small clubs and they would in turn gather their friends and colleagues — in all, they recorded over 100 musicians from Tibet to Zimbabwe.

The unique composition of the film which has musicians playing together yet in their own traditions, made Johnson think anew about what world music means:

“Just thinking in my mind… what would be unique instruments to juxtapose against each other that had never been heard before: a talking drum and a tabla, they’re very similar but they never really come together, or a sitar and a dobro, very similar but how often do you hear them play together? The idea was to go to places that would have some sort of instruments that they could add to the spectrum of the global music that we were trying to find.”

The Playing For Change Foundation provides resources (facilities, supplies, educational programs, etc) to musicians and communities around the world. The foundation is working with South African poet Lesego Rampolokenga to build the Mehlo Arts Center in Johannesburg, South Africa and building and supporting the Ntonga Music School in the South African township of Guguletu. In addition, Playing For Change is working to enhance and rebuild Tibetan refugee centers in Dharamasala, India and Kathmandu, Nepal. You can find news about their benefit concerts and programs, and listen to additional songs, on their Web site:

If you can view this clip without smiling- you truly don’t have a soul. 

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