Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


A Well Society and Music’s Heralding of Social Justice Concerns

Scott F. Madey, Dean D. VonDras

A person’s wellness is not only based upon factors such as lifestyle, heredity, attitude toward health, and personal behavior, but is also connected to the health of a society in which they live. A healthy society is one that ensures the basic needs of each person are met and that they may realize their greatest human potential. A well society protects the personal freedoms, equality, and human rights of each person. A well society seeks an equitable distribution of resources, access to education, and pursuit of occupations. A well society seeks to provide access to exemplary healthcare, regardless of race, economic status, gender orientation, ethnicity, country of origin or immigration status. A well society celebrates these moral ideals—it sings out the need to hear every voice, to provide for each person’s basic needs, and to offer the greatest opportunities for personal-growth and self-realization that can be imagined.

Music’s Heralding of Social Justice Concerns

Music serves a key role in communicating pressing issues in society. Indeed, in the rhythms, harmonic textures, and melodic voice of music, we find connection with our deepest feelings and thoughts, stirring insight into our relationship with others and the world we share together. Music, like other expressive arts, makes us aware of deep social and cultural issues, allows us to feel empathy, and to find the courage to examine existing cultural attitudes and to transform opinions. Music moves us toward action and to be advocates of social justice thereby making the world a better place in which to live. The following YouTube videos illustrate music’s unique role in promoting social justice. As you listen and reflect, we hope you will find inspiration to grow as a person and to become involved in your community to the betterment of all.

– “The Chester Children’s Chorus-I Still Can’t Breathe 2016 – YouTube”

In this video, the Chester Children’s Chorus performs a piece composed by Dr. John Alston, their director. This very personal and reflective musical work is the chorus’ response to the violent deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and Eric Garner in 2014. In very compelling and plaintive expression, this piece asks the listener to contemplate deeply about how we see others and to consider the point of view of children who encounter social bias, prejudice, and discrimination.

– “Nai Syrian Children’s Choir Premiere Hussein Janmohamed‘s Rise Children, Rise to Peace for Serenade! – YouTube”

In this video, the Nae Syrian Children’s Choir premiers Hussein Janmohamed’s “Rise Children, Rise to Peace.” Like the Chester Children’s Chorus, the choir conveys a message that asks the listener to compassionately embrace the dignity of each person, to seek social justice, and to strive for peace.

– “Nina Simone –Backlash Blues (Live at Montreux, 1976) – YouTube”

This is a live performance of “Backlash Blues” by Nina Simone, musician, composer, and civil rights activist. The term “backlash” refers to violence instigated and carried out in response to the “Civil Rights Act” signed in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Describing the long history of U.S. racial inequality, this song also expresses how African Americans have used and found power in blues music to escape from and overcome the violence of racial discrimination and oppression.

– “Pete Seeger Performs ‘Hobo’s Lullaby’ Live in 1996 – YouTube”

This live performance of Woodie Guthrie’s “Hobo’s Lullaby” by Pete Seeger, while describing the care-free hobo-lifestyle, also alludes to incidents in which hobos and vagrants were vilified and beaten-up by police as they travelled from one community to another during the Great Depression era (1929 to 1939 in the U.S.). Like Nina Simone, throughout his life Pete Seeger used his banjo and folk music to advocate for social justice and social change.

– “LIVE Concierto de Danny Ocean y Gian Marco en el Día del Refugiado, presentado por Alfonso Herrera – YouTube”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, musicians have offered concerts from their homes via the internet. This almost hour-long video presents a live “Couch Concert” performance by Venezuelan superstar Danny Ocean and Peruvian great Gian Marco for World Refugee Day 2020. This concert is provided in conjunction with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and highlights the courage of men, women, and children who flee violence and persecution throughout the world. This program is another example of how musicians may contribute to the advocacy for human rights and social justice.

Music, Wellness, and Aging by Scott F. Madey and Dean D. VonDras
Music, Wellness, and Aging by Scott F. Madey and Dean D. VonDras

About The Authors

Scott F. Madey

Scott F. Madey is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. He has taught courses in the history of psychology, multicultural health psychology, ...

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Dean D. VonDras

Dean D. VonDras holds a B.A. in Music and Ph.D. in psychology. He plays piano and has been a member of bands and ensemble groups since elementary school. He is currently Professor ...

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