I hadn’t been aware of “hate rock” until I heard about it on news reports about Wade Michael Page’s shootings at a Milwaukee Sikh temple. But it makes perfect sense that Page and others with white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and hateful views of Sikhs and Muslims are inspired to express their hatred through music.
Music expresses and shapes tastes and sentiments. As marvelously described a quarter-century ago by Allan Bloom in his Closing of the American Mind:
This is the age of music and the states of soul that accompany it. To find a rival to this enthusiasm, one would have to go back at least a century to Germany and the passion for Wagner’s operas. . . . The power of music in the soul -- described to Jessica marvelously by Lorenzo in the Merchant of Venice -- has been recovered after a long period of desuetude. . . . Symptomatic of this change is how seriously students now take the famous passages on musical education in Plato’s Republic. . . . Students today . . . know exactly why Plato takes music so seriously. They know it affects life very profoundly and are indignant because Plato seems to want to rob them of their most intimate pleasure. . . . Plato teaches that, in order to take the spiritual temperature of an individual or a society, one must “mark the music.”. . . Hence, for those who are interested in psychological health, music is at the center of education, both for giving the passions their due and for preparing the soul for the unhampered use of reason. The centrality of such education was recognized by all the ancient educators. It is hardly noticed today that in Aristotle’s Politics the most important passages about the best regime concern musical education.
It is unsurprising that people with hate-filled souls, like Page, express themselves through hate-filled music. They build a community of like-minded people by using musical concerts as occasions to bring people together and recorded music to maintain their hatred when they’re back in regular society.
While music can express and sustain hatred, it also famously has the power to “soothe the savage breast.” No wonder then that there are so many nonprofit groups that use music to inspire, comfort, and educate with healthy rather than hateful sentiments.
I spoke with a couple leaders of music nonprofits this week about their work in bringing music to youth. Michael Jones, founder and executive director of Music for Hope, spoke to me about his work to bring instruments that were collecting dust in people’s garages to children and schools that can’t afford instruments. Jones told me that his organization aspires
to make the world a better place through music by getting instruments into the hands of kids -- especially low-income kids -- who wouldn’t have a chance to play an instrument otherwise. . . . Music actually improves the brain; there’re hundreds of studies that show that music helps to re-wire the brain. Involvement in music programs helps kids with teamwork. If they’re in a band or group, it helps them learn to be part of an organization. It boosts kids’ self-esteem.
I also spoke with Ian Mouser, founder and executive director of My Voice Music, which offers music programs and classes to youth (three-quarters of those it serves are youth who have dropped out of traditional education settings). He spoke about some of the same benefits of teamwork and organizational skills mentioned by Jones, and also noted how music helps, in Bloom’s terms, “to take the spiritual temperature of an individual.” As Jones put it to me:
Music is a place where we find identity and enable expression. Music ultimately is our earliest form of gathering and celebration. It’s in our blood. Music is not a cure-all but, for some, it’s that magic thing that allows them to thrive.
Last weekend’s shooting at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee is a reminder about the power of music; for those undergraduates about to return to college it will be an important example for discussion in their classes, only two or three weeks away, on Plato’s and Aristotle’s discussion of music. Music has the power to educate into hatred but also to educate youth to happiness and psychic health -- as these and other nonprofits aspire to do.