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MLK Celebrations: Singing With Soul

Every year, our school gathers to honor the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Having just sat through my seventh assembly, I finally realized something: that there has always been some musical component to these functions.

Given the length of the assembly and the less-than-ideal seating, it’s refreshing to have something different to keep everyone interested (and conscious), but personally, I appreciate the musical additions for a different reason.

In my opinion, some things just can’t be expressed in words. The finality of a perfect authentic cadence, or the eeriness of a fully diminished seventh can’t be replicated in text. Music impacts you both visually and aurally, which makes it a much more powerful form of communication.

I have a much closer relationship with music than most people. I’ve been playing piano since I was five and the saxophone since the age of 12, and spent countless hours practicing with these instruments. Still, no matter how musical you are yourself, I’m sure you at least enjoy the existence of music in your life.

It’s a form of expression, but one that’s much more subtle and nuanced than listening a speech or reading someone’s dissertation. It can convey any emotion without the aid of lyrics. The end of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is clearly meant to be celebratory, while Johann Strauss’ Beautiful Blue Danube leaves us in awe of the beauty Strauss himself must have witnessed as he gazed upon the Danube for the first time (If  you’re not familiar with these works, they’re definitely worth a listen).

Music is also an important part, and identifying characteristic, of many cultures, from the militaristic style that permeates through much of Communist-era Russian to the pentatonic scale commonly used in East Asian. Drums were a common form of communication in pre-colonial Africa, and spiritual singing was a key component of slavery life in the United States, both as a form of perseverance as well as a lifeline to freedom.

The choral performance at this year’s assembly exemplifies the power of music to bring people together and move us. As a participant or listener, with the lines memorized or unable to make out a single word, we were all a part of it. While I don’t have the strongest connection with this type of music, I still felt something stir within me.

It’s not something that always happens. It’s one thing to sound good, but another to be musical. When a performer develops a personal relationship with the music, he or she puts a bit of his or her soul into the piece and given it life. That is what I saw and heard on Friday. There was a passion to the movements and melodies that goes beyond learning parts and memorizing lines.

They sang with soul, and that’s something you can’t teach.

Written by Andy Li’13

Photos by Alex LiChen’16


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