Menschen jubeln durch Klänge vereint auf einem großen Rock-Konzert.

The unifying power of music: What’s behind the myth?

Art has an effect. It bridges differences and can be a form of dialogue. Singing together creates an overarching sense of identity.

Those who make music together cannot fight each other. That is the idea behind the founding of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, for which conductor Daniel Barenboim has set up an academy in Berlin. Young Israelis and Arabs play together in the orchestra. A special peace project and symbol of the fact that conflicts, like the one in the Middle East, can only be solved together and through dialogue, and that even out of seemingly opposing positions one can find something that connects – even if it is “only” the music. In fact, music is credited with effects that bring people together. But what exactly is the power of music?

Sounds promote identity and spirituality

For making music together, a synchronous physical activity, demographic characteristics such as gender, age, or social status, as well as individual differences such as personality or intelligence, are hardly relevant. Through making music and singing – writes researcher Gunter Kreutz of the University of Oldenburg – “an overarching sense of identity emerges that allows it to be understood as part of a whole.”

Singing together promotes the perception of one’s own voice, but also causes it to merge into common sounds, which increases attention to the group. Something like social connectedness develops. Along with an experience of self-efficacy comes an experience of spirituality. There is a reason why there is so much singing in church.

Universal language – and expression of freedom

Everyone knows that when music and rhythm affect the mind and body and sounds unite people, they feel connected in a special way. Whether it’s classical music, rap or pop. The touching power of music, and the unifying power that lies dormant in it, also becomes clear in the videos in which people reach for their instruments instead of guns in front of houses destroyed by war in Ukraine. Music and individual songs are and were important elements in freedom struggles. The song “We shall overcome”, for example, had given new courage to many activists of the civil rights movement in the USA. There was also a lot of singing during the so-called Arab Spring, when the old order was challenged and citizens demanded more rights.

Long tradition in Europe: the peace songs

Music and songs are also a popular medium to create mood for peace. The tradition of peace songs in Europe goes back to the times of the medieval minstrels and troubadours. These poets and singers paid homage not only to love, but also to the ideal of peace. Their songs were about harmony, togetherness and the longing for a world without wars.

In the 20th century, peace songs gained even greater importance. During World War I, they often served as an outlet for people’s pain and grief, providing comfort and companionship. During World War II, they became symbols of resistance and hope for a better world. During the Cold War and the associated tensions between East and West, peace songs contributed to international understanding and the promotion of dialogue. Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, during the peace movement, songs about peace became anthems for those working for disarmament and global harmony.

Without music life would be a mistake

In any case, the psychological effects of singing, which have been proven by research, include: improvement of mood, relaxation and stress reduction, mental activation. In general, music can have a positive effect on physical, mental and social well-being and thus promote health, if this is not considered to mean only the absence of disease and infirmity.

To sum up, music undoubtedly has a unifying power. It is not possible to determine exactly how strong this is and what it does. The true magic of music lies in its ability to inspire, move and engage people in conversation. By sharing common emotions and transcending cultural boundaries, music creates a platform where people can meet – albeit in their own unique way.
Music knows no language boundaries and overcomes opposites. If you like, it is the only worldwide language that everyone understands. A unifying bond that has run through all societies for centuries. Without music, Nietzsche already said, life would be a mistake.

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