Bridge the Gap shows that music is a universal language

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By Joe Whitenton

Last week, I helped out with Bridge the Gap, a chamber music initiative that is working towards starting an orchestra for young people in South Dallas.

We had a big kick-off event with free food, an instrument petting zoo, a drum circle and a lot of performances. While we were setting up, I went over to ask Lawson Malnory, a music student at SMU, for some mallets that I needed for a drum. He was in the middle of leading the drum circle so he looked at me and said “Can you do this?”

I took his shaker and his stick and started imitating what he was doing, and the rest of the drum circle continued without a pause. Then, Lawson ran off to get the mallets. I held the circle together for about three minutes before he came back. That’s when something struck me: music speaks its own language.

This might seem like a cliche sentiment and maybe it totally is. But Lawson didn’t tell me, “Okay, do eighth notes with the shaker and then beat the drum in quarter notes and maybe throw in some variations in there like some ‘eighth-eighth-quarter’ or something” and he didn’t hand me any notated music. I just knew what he meant by “Can you do this?”

That day, I showed a number of small children how to play the cello and the drums. There were few words exchanged there as well. Mostly, it was demonstration and feeling things out. I think I would have been just as successful teaching kids in a foreign country who didn’t speak the same language as me. That’s what music does, it breaks down language and cultural barriers.

Bridge the Gap focuses on chamber music, but not only the classical. The kick-off event featured a pop a capella group from SMU, The Belle Tones, as well as a jazz ensemble. Anyone who plays music in an ensemble knows the language of music. Any sort of ensemble requires communication and working together toward a common goal, whether you’re following a soloist, trading off the spotlight amongst a group, or trying to blend into a single voice.

Yet, at the same time, many people can enjoy a Miles Davis record or a symphony without knowing anything about the nuances or even the basics of jazz or classical music. So what does this say about music?

I think it says that if there is a universal language, then it’s music. Everyone can feel rhythm, everyone can sing and everyone can enjoy music no matter what one’s tastes are.

Something I often say in a sarcastic manner after I screw up something musically in front of people is, “I hate music.” I think the reason that joke usually gets a chuckle is because it’s so absurd.

Who could hate music? I mean, yeah, I can see why some people hate this genre or that group, but could anyone truly hate all music? Lots of people hate studio art or theater or dance and will never go to an art museum or performance of a play or a ballet, but can anyone escape Earth without loving a band, a piece or a song? You tell me.

If you love music and want to experience it first hand, check out Bridge The Gap.

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