When writers write, they write alone. When painters paint, they usually paint alone. But when musicians make music, they normally do it with others – which is why music is the ideal art form with which to respond to the fracturing of politics and society.
Music symbolises a coming together – it unites musicians with audiences, as well as with each other. It prizes collaboration and harmony, and exemplifies our common humanity. Nowhere better than in the Union Chapel in London, one evening last week, at an event designed specifically as a response to recent events in the UK, the US, and around the world.
On the morning after the EU referendum, the London musician Michael Solomon Williams put out a call online: would anyone be interested in coming together to create a musical response to Brexit? The reaction was so immediate – and so overwhelming – that within days, plans were under way to make a global video, featuring a song, Human Kind, that Solomon Williams had composed especially, and then a concert featuring an array of world class solo artists from a huge variety of genres, countries and cultural backgrounds. (Full disclosure: I acted as compère at the concert.)
The Grammy award-nominated operatic mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly opened the concert with the heart-breaking Lascia ch’io pianga, from Handel’s Rinaldo, and was followed immediately by the avant-garde jazz trio Thomas Gould, Andrew McCormack and Bernhard Schimpelsberger, with a unique fusion of Western and Indian rhythms and sequences. The iconic jazz-rock-soul singer Sarah Jane Morris, formerly of The Communards, sang a spine-tingling version of Lennon’s Imagine, followed by Bangladeshi star Saida Tani. Guitarist-composer-producer Mark Lettieri, of Snarky Puppy, flew in from Fort Worth, Texas, and Cassidy Janson, star of the Carole King musical Beautiful, brought the house down with Natural Woman. The journalist, campaigner and environmentalist George Monbiot and folk guitarist Ewan McLennan unveiled their joint words-and-music project called Breaking the Spell of Loneliness.
But when they all returned to the stage to perform Human Kind, joined by a 200-strong choir in the gallery of the Union Chapel, something special happened. Their voices and their hearts seemed to come together in a true celebration of humanity, a demonstration of the power of music to connect people across borders and across genres.
You’ll be able to hear the result when the video is released, together with contributions from singers around the world, later this year. Look out for the rubric Common and Kind – the name of the charity they have established to build on the success of last week’s concert.