Music can inspire great achievements and launch a personal journey of discovery. Unfortunately, it can also be used to incite violence and promote an agenda of hatred. Like most people, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the recent shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. As a musician, I am disturbed that the alleged gunman used music to further his extremist views. While upsetting, it also provides opportunity for focus and reflection.
Evidently the gunman was in a band that promoted white supremacy and racial bigotry. While it is baffling that there is a market for such music, it’s even more troubling that some people blindly follow and assume the message is true. I do not listen to this type of music and certainly do not seek it out. That said, I’ve stumbled upon some rather alarming music videos by simply clicking a link or two. It’s not as far a journey as one might think. Music based on hatred has but one purpose. That intended message most likely cancels out any decency left in the actual notes, rhythms or beat.
Music can be used for a multitude of purposes, from good to nefarious. This speaks to the power of music as symbol. Sound can be emblematic. Unfortunately, those who use music to support their disturbing views understand this clearly. The Nazis used the music of Wagner and Strauss in this way. And while Wagner certainly held unsavory political and racial views, it would be difficult to prove that his music led to Nazi extremism. Rather, since he dealt in the world of symbol and myth from a Germanic perspective, his music was more easily bent to their radical views. When music, great or otherwise, is presented this way the deeper message, the power of music’s greater potential, can be lost.
But it is not only about music. I was disturbed to learn that the Celtic cross has been adopted as a symbol for certain hate groups. This beautiful cultural relic has no place in the culture of hatred. Rather, it belongs to the heritage of the entire world. Derived from the concept of axis mundi (world center), it represents a grounding valued by many cultures and faiths. Its decorative motifs can be seen in variations from Tibet to Ireland to the American Southwest. Today it represents a valid image for peaceful meditation regardless of religion.
I have long admired Wagner’s music for the mythological images and personal message. I have also been fascinated by designs on Celtic crosses. I’ve read books on both Wagnerian and Celtic motifs from psychological, sociological, spiritual and cultural perspectives. When used for deep reflection, both teach me something about myself. While I am not part of either culture, the sounds and images instruct me nonetheless.
For me, I choose to keep my Celtic pendant as well as my Wagner recordings. I continue to search and find meaning in that which inspires me—for the good. And I steadfastly refuse to allow uneducated extremists to hijack that which belongs to all humankind. I choose the side of music that has the power to lift us to the gods.
Copyright, 2012. Robert Baldwin
Illustrations are images of a Sikh Khanda and Celtic Cross. Both have something to reveal.