Debbie Davenport, MLS, Collection Development Librarian
Imagine with me, just for a moment, that you are sitting in your favorite movie theater. You have just chosen the perfect seat and have gotten comfortable with your snack and beverage, anxious for the film of your choice to begin. The lights dim, and the people around you get quiet. The previews are just beginning. Now close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Voices of the characters. Movement. The breathing of the person next to you. Go deeper and listen to the background of the film itself. Aha and eureka! You’ve detected the siren’s song! Music is underlying the emotion, the action, the drama. It’s driving the impact of the film and is the vehicle to your very soul. Guess what—it happens in your reality as well.
Show-and-tell time with a personal example: I will always relate a certain 80s song to the Challenger Disaster of 1986. To a seven-year-old who was watching the events unfold from her desk and eagerly anticipating the lift-off of the shuttle with her classmates, that moment in time is forever seared in my memory of images, feelings, and sound. The explosion. The horror and disbelief. The sounds. The media played clips over and over of those 73 seconds with this one song playing in the background. To this day, all I need is to hear Cyndi Lauper singing that tune and I am transported back in time to the awful events of that day. In that moment there was history, emotion, and reflection.
My mother remembers not so much individual pieces but shifts found in the musical landscape itself. Her recollections include the first time Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 and the scandal with his swiveling hips; the screaming fans from Beatlemania and the beginning of the “British Invasion” in 1964; the heyday of disco and Saturday Night Fever in 1977 and 1978. For her, these moments represented not only change in musical style but a shifting of politics and culture in the world around her. She was witnessing—and living—social change.
Pete Seeger is a prime example of how musicians and the melodies they shared are reflections of society and change. A radio fixture in the 1940s, he was blacklisted in the McCarthy era but re-emerged in the 1960s and became one of the voices singing for change. He supported civil rights, international disarmament, and environmental causes. Seeger reflected an ideal, a counterculture movement that was gaining ground and attracting attention for a change of the status quo. His music was one of many drivers in a vehicle for revolution.
Music and musicians have been around for thousands of years and have shaped our world. Sometimes quietly, other times in a demanding fashion, the melody and harmony are a soundtrack to our history and will continue to mold our future. Check out our list for Music & Musicians on ipage to learn more about these trailblazers from our past and present. You may just find your future.