My name is Robert Ellsworth Feng, and I truly believe that music can change the world. Music is an art form that is so unique to the human condition, yet we as a collective culture seem to dismiss its influence and power. Some would even go as far as to brand music as what Peter Kivy calls "musical wallpaper".
But why then were Zildjian's origins used for warfare as instruments of intimidation? Why then would the entire population of a nation rise in silence and respect for their National Anthem? Why then would the operas of John Adams, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner spark so much controversy as to incite protests? Why then is there always an immense surge in music whenever people are faced with oppression, tyranny, and injustice?
The answer is that music does indeed have a power like no other. Guns and swords can kill a human being, but music and art can change one. It is this power that makes music so unique to its design. Music has the uncanny ability to speak to many different people no matter their race, religion, sexuality, economic position, etc., and to bring them all together as one understanding being - An understanding that music uses time as its canvas and that this particular time is used to make the world a better place. Music teaches us empathy, the key component that I believe is missing from many of today's generation. So much time is spent watching and observing violence, famine, oppression, and poverty; and yet it's just that: Watching and observing. It's as if a large percentage of the human population decided that there is nothing that can be done about this except sit by and watch the violence continue. Empathy is what can save us. Empathy shows us that we are much more similar than we think and therefore, there is an inherent duty we must also share to help those in need.
Music often combines language with sonic beauty, creating intense emotions and passionate messages that you are not alone in your endeavors. Aristotle believed that art is a form of imitation, that we as a human race can benefit from through learning and through expressing in ourselves these imitations. And thus the question arrives: "Why learn simply if one can also learn beautifully? And therefore, why teach simply if one can also teach beautifully?" Most important of all however, is the role that we as artists must play. Yes, we teach, we create, we listen, and we perform; but as artists we are merely the megaphone - the interpreter. Legendary pianist Leon Fleisher in his 2018 speech at the Peabody Conservatory's commencement told the graduating class that "we are the middlemen. The star, the one that walks up on stage and bows, is the music."
In the words of Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, "You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense disatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'" That is why I sing, and that is why I believe music can change the world.
-Robert Ellsworth Feng