Music & Movement
We are musical creatures. It is like a rising tide inside us, making everything inside more fluid and connected.
Songs and Singing
Cultures develop uniquely identifiable musical repertoires. Early works often carried the group’s history and values – stories in easy-to-remember forms, highlighting what is important and why. These are very ‘sing-able’ – and often leverage their unique instrumentation. Again, we can quickly identify the country or region after a few notes. These aren’t stereotypes as much as shorthand – a landing place from which to proceed.
Exposure to these cultural differences can build understanding. When Paul Simon introduced Americans to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, people revelled in this new musical paradigm. They got a taste of a different culture – just through the music.
Some of the quintessential American musical genres came from racial or geographic subgroups. Jazz, hip-hop and spirituals are but a few contributions and innovations the African-American community gave to the world. Many early Broadway musicals were written by members of the Jewish community who had a unique appreciation for the safety and opportunity America offered – the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin to name a few. God Bless America was so popular it almost replaced our national anthem.
Whenever a race or ethnicity celebrates ANYTHING, music carries much of the load. Old songs that bring the next generation into the fold. Songs to be sung together and music that gets people moving – TOGETHER. Music binds us; we see one another singing the same words we are singing – and we become one for those few minutes. We breathe together. We feel that same feeling – together.
Dance History and Traditions
Each ethnic group develops unique forms of dance and movement. It’s interesting to consider how geographically separated groups devised specialized moves and gestures. And over time these humble beginnings led to increasing levels of complexity and impact.
The circle. Perhaps it was a procession around a fire where it all began. But there is something about moving together in an endless loop that strengthens a community. People operate as one, maintaining contact with one another. These aren’t performances to watch – they are participative rituals.
Weddings and festivals often keep these traditions alive.
Individual forms of dance also vary greatly across races and ethnicities. Just like some birds perform elaborate and bizarre dances to attract a mate, people also have that mating work to do. It seems that each new generation, the group for whom finding a partner is paramount, develops new ways to demonstrate their fitness, readiness and appeal – to music.
Dance as a fine art. Each culture invests in choreographers and dancers who take their communities dance language to new heights – refined, stylized treatments performed by masters and enjoyed by audiences. Geisha from Japan, Cossack from Russia, Flamenco from Spain and Irish Step Dancing are just a few examples. All these performers provide a sense of pride in a person’s heritage.
When we culture hop and visit other communities, participating in these celebrations can bring hard reminders that what looks easy – is not. It might be tempting to think we are simply built differently – that’s why we can’t do it. But, instead, it is eons of lovingly and proudly handing down the traditions, family by family.
Here is where the differences across races and cultures explode with energy and mastery and passion. And where history jumps directly into people’s lives today. Often initially rooted in geography – making creative uses of local materials to build rhythms and whistles – these musical disciplines grew in complexity and influence over time. Group events were orchestrated and punctuated with percussion and melodies that brought people together spiritually and emotionally.
Russian balalaikas, Spanish castanets, German horns, African and Native American drums, Japanese koto or Cajun fiddle are just a few examples. Most of us can identify a culture after hearing just a few notes. We instantly picture the attire, vocal accompaniment, dance and movement. We are also likely to remember the details of where we were when we were first introduced to something so different from what we had known before.
For those who are native to this music, this is the sound of home. Just hearing the music can fire, not just the memories, but the emotions and feelings of connection again. Hearing the sounds of our childhood is a chance to revisit our earlier selves. It’s all still there, in our brains, when we want to visit.
Anthems & Nationalistic Songs
Nothing stirs patriotic feelings like national anthems and all the ceremonies associated with them. No matter where a person is in the world, when the music from their home country comes on, they feel a connection.