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Is Music Just a Fancy Version of “Thoughts and Prayers”?

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As a Canadian — and because this is a songwriting blog — I haven’t had a lot to say about American politics. And believe me, there’s a lot one can say. I align myself firmly with those who are deeply concerned about what is happening in the U.S. “Extreme vetting” is a dangerous doorway to the normalizing of prejudicial behaviour, and I would never have expected it from the “leader of the free world” (a term which, sadly, now seems to belong in quotes.)

The numbers of good Americans who have been exercising their rights to free speech for the past week, from the Women’s Marches (in the U.S., but all over the world as well), to the protests at many American airports this past weekend, give one at least a measure of hope.

I feel immense pride that Canada has accepted tens of thousands of refugees who are trying desperately to escape danger and find a new way of life for themselves and their families, and long may it continue.

I wanted to address something that does, in fact, relate to songwriting, and it has to do with a term I’ve seen a lot on Facebook, Twitter and other social media: “Thoughts and prayers.”

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the sentiment expressed when someone posts “thoughts and prayers” after a terrorist bombing. It’s a big world, and sometimes it seems that all we have are our “thoughts and prayers.” I am, like many Canadians and others around the world, devastated by the killings yesterday at a Québec City mosque, and today I have my own thoughts and prayers.

I hope it’s not too unfair of me to say that when a politician — someone who can actually do something — tweets out “thoughts and prayers,” I get a little frustrated. Thanks for the thoughts, but now do something, I find myself occasionally muttering.

But I wonder… is music just a fancy version of “thoughts and prayers”? When you hear about injustices in the world, about hurting, killing and unspeakable cruelties — do you ever feel that writing a song that expresses your feelings about it all falls considerably short of being at all helpful in any tangible way?

I used to feel that way, but I don’t anymore. I most certainly do believe in the power of the creative arts to poignantly communicate who we are and what we stand for.

You can tell people what you think, and I hope you live in a country that allows you to do that with ease. But there is a certain indescribable power that comes from singing what you think. Of putting your thoughts and prayers into a musical form.

With every song you write, you add to the artistic lexicon of the world. You do what artists have always done, and have always had to do: express yourself.

As concerned citizens of the world, it’s important that we use whatever means we have at our disposal to peacefully but firmly support freedom and to help those who need our help, wherever we see that need arise.

But in the meantime, and in and around those tangible efforts to help others, don’t ever feel that your songwriting is unimportant. You might do well to think of songs as very small seeds, seeds that can help to build the kind of world we’d all like to see.

So if you are a songwriter, please keep writing. Keep expressing your “thoughts and prayers” in musical form. Your songs can give those who need it some courage, and even embolden and empower others who need it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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