One sunny September afternoon, one of my friends and I were searching the farthest reaches of our brains for some activity to keep us occupied. We often played the guitar together, but since the fall weather was so unusually pleasant, we could not just sit in some dingy basement and play to the termites in the rafters. We decided to take our music to the great outdoors; specifically, our town square.
We lugged our instruments four short blocks and set up camp on a shaded park bench. To our surprise, the square was nearly deserted, with the exception of a woman talking on her cell phone outside of a storefront. Not swayed by the lack of people, my friend and I cracked open our cases and began to strike up a tune.
We played our hearts out for around half an hour. When we stopped, the sun was beginning to set, and still no one was in sight - let alone earshot. Just as we were about to pack up our mobile concert, a young man came out of a store and approached us. He was probably around twenty years of age, of Hispanic ethnicity, and of moderate stature.
He never introduced himself properly; instead, he began our short encounter with a simple compliment. “I like your guitars,” he said, and we politely thanked him and continued to make small talk. My friend and I had never seen him around town, which was quite unusual in a town of approximately six thousand people. Nonetheless, we pressed the conversation further.
We came to find out that the young man approached us because he had just moved to town. He said that he loved music with all of his heart and had not seen anyone in his new town that shared his passion. Where he came from, there were people everywhere that played music publicly. Therefore, when he saw us, he grew excited and had to get a closer look.
Half embarrassed, we confessed that we were just trying to prevent boredom, not change the world with song. “Oh, but you are never just playing music,” the man responded. “When you pick up an instrument, you are bridging a gap between yourself and the people around you. It is one of the few things in this world that overlooks race, sexual orientation, gender, or social stature. Whatever you do, never stop playing.” After saying this, the man thanked us for our time and went on his way.
After pondering these words, I realized that the man in the square was right. The ability to create music is one of humanity’s crown jewels. It allows for expression and interpretation. It breaks down barriers. It acts as an outlet from the pressures of society. It builds bridges and makes connections. At its most basic, music can unite people of all races, orientations, genders, and classes through a universal language. This I Believe.
This I Believe Illinois is an essay program for high school seniors to share their perspectives as they prepare to enter adulthood. Each year, a panel selcts ten submitted essays to be recorded by their authors for broadcast on NPR Illinois. Since 2007, the selected authors also deliver their essays at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise where the students receive scholarships from the organization.