Music has played an important role in many social movements, bringing hope to millions, fostering community, and encouraging perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Negro Spirituals were a vital means for African American slaves to express their solidarity and protest, and immunise themselves against despair in the face of extreme unjust treatment. They have been described as “Living Hope”:
African American religious music has generally been born of suffering yet focused on hope-hope for a better world, where oppression and suffering give way to justice and freedom. In the spirituals and hymns that have grown out of African American experience, this hope has most often been expressed in terms of a heaven beyond this world, where all will be made right. That vision of hope has never failed, though, to stir longings for something better “here and now” as well. The music of this tradition has made, and continues to make, an indelible impression on the landscape of American (and world) culture-expressing a proud heritage of faithful endurance, offering a testimony of hope to all who suffer, enlarging many human hearts through unique poetic power, even challenging public policy through compelling portraits of a just and free society.
The tradition continued in South Africa during the struggle against apartheid. In many anthems of hope, the people expressed their anger at the government and their sorrow at the Sharpeville massacre and other tragedies, and sung of their coming freedom.
In recent years, Gareth Malone has demonstrated the power of singing together in daily life. He has taken his choral direction skills and expertise into places and situations where they were decidedly lacking. In “Boys Don’t Sing”, he led a large choir of difficult boys to a performance at the Royal Albert Hall; he set up a vibrant community choir in South Oxhey in “Unsung Town”; and he nurtured the “Military Wives” to a Remembrance Day performance before the Queen. In all cases, the music and the experience of singing together, encouraged by Malone, has drawn out emotions, given confidence, and literally and metaphorically given a voice to many people.
Then there is the choir Voices of Hope, the current holders of the “National Choir of the Year” title. It was founded in 2011 for a memorial concert to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF). It takes its name from the BHF’s Gifts of Hope tribute fund, which enables people to share memories of their loved ones and help to tackle heart disease.
Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller