The Power of Music

After Thanksgiving, I change my radio station to SUNNY 99.1 FM, which plays Christmas and holiday music around the clock through December 25. As I sing along to some of my favorites, I am reminded of the power of music. Music transcends all boundaries; it transports us to the past (the song you danced to on your wedding day?), it reminds of us of times spent with friends, trips taken, historical moments, it unites people, and gives hope for a better tomorrow. Music is part of our celebrations, whether we are singing “Joy to the World,” “Happy Birthday,” “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” or “Auld Lang Syne.”

Music provides a view into a country’s culture and values, and provides an excellent opportunity to engage and learn about other country’s traditions. When I travel, I always try to go into a music store and buy a couple of CDs, usually something more traditional and something more current. Carefully chosen music also can be a good gift for colleagues and friends abroad, a way to share our local culture and talented performers. Years ago I received a Cirque du Soleil (it started in a small town in Quebec) CD from the Canadian Consul General. But over the years officials from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and many other countries have also used the gift of music to tell the story of their countries. I learned from them and began giving CDS, everything from collections of Texas music to recordings by the Houston Symphony.

Music is such a vital part of culture, that countries have national anthems, and while you may not be familiar with most, there are a few that many of us easily recognize, like “the Marseillaise.” Anthems are played at the Olympics, head of state dinners, and other significant occasions. For protocol officers, anthems require special care: is it the correct anthem and which version is right for my occasion, the long or the short? Is this recording good enough? Where can we buy the sheet music? What is the translation of the lyrics? Mistakes are rare, but mortifying when they happen. For some anthem protocol horror stories, see here and here.

When planning events, it is important to consider the sound track–the music–as a key element, since it can either help set the right tone, or mar an otherwise perfect event. I was reminded of this recently when I attended the memorial service for Klaus Aurisch, who served for years as Germany’s Consul General in Houston. The prelude was Sonata in E Minor: Allegretto and Menuetto, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This was followed by the “Tolling of the Bell” representing each year in his life, and a song sung in German and the postlude, Fugue in D Minor by JS Bach. What perfect choices to mourn the passing of a great man.

A few years ago, I moderated a panel at a protocol conference on using music for setting the tone of events. One of the panelists was Colonel Larry H. Lang, Commander and Conductor of the United States Air Force Band. From its humble beginnings with only three enlisted musicians assigned in 1941, to today’s 179-member premier musical organization, The U.S. Air Force Band continues the tradition of representing the United States Air Force as a goodwill ambassador to a global audience through 12 international concert tours, covering 48 countries and 40 world capitals on five continents with over 400,000 dedicated Active Duty and Air National Guard members. Col. Lang understands the way music can motivate, console, celebrate, or comfort.

Don’t leave this key element of event planning to an afterthought. As an example of the effect music can have on people–to stop them in their tracks, to bring joy– watch and listen to this YouTube video, featuring the U.S. Air Force Band.

As event planners and hosts, we must appreciate the power of seemingly minor elements, like music. Be it in the background, a performance, or an anthem, the music sets the mood in a powerful way. And more important, music can promote both your culture and that of your guests, and it breaks down barriers to create a better understanding among the peoples of the world. As the U.S. Air Force Band puts it, “(the Band) helps create bonds between the United States and the worldwide community through world-class musical presentations and ceremonies. Using music to bridge language, cultural, societal, and socio-economic differences, the Band’s performances advance international relationships and inspire positive and long-lasting impressions of the U.S. Air Force and the United States of America.”

I wish you all peace and goodness in this holiday season and for those who celebrate it, a Joyous Christmas.

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