Every musical decision is inherently political, no matter the composer’s intent.  One of my old blog posts notes this.  Every note you place is a hierarchy of who (or what) plays what, when, how, in what relation to other things, in relation to the instrument’s musical tradition, in relation to the cultural significance of the instrument, in relation to the instrument’s typical idiomatic passages.

But, from a conceptual standpoint, music can be inherently political.  I would hope that any political music that I generate would come sincerely, in good faith, not naively, and that I would understand what I am saying in the context and history of society and politics (even if only at a slightly-more-than-apt level).  Assuming that all of these are present, the question remains: do you choose, as one of your music’s roles, to make any part of your output political, and why?

I have been trending towards a more politically active music.  Why do I do this?  A pipeline is running through sacred native lands.  Income inequality has grown as a result of the great recession.  College debt is crippling a new generation of America’s leaders.  Lies are indistinguishable from truth in many people’s news intake.  Racism is far from dead, and is continuing to rear its ugly head in full view, yet some ignore it and are complicit in its perpetuation.  We have a president-elect who sexually assaulted women and bragged about it.

Can you tell I’m a bit angry?

In trying to calm myself down and find a way to use my specific talents to help effect change in this world (as we all have our talents that can bring change), I turn to my music.  My recent works with text have focused on illuminating my views and making commentary on the political climate we live in.  When they are performed, they will contribute to the current political debate.

It seems, though, that the key operative is when, as in, they are not contributing to the current political debate when unperformed.  Therefore, since the first act of political music is writing the music, the second act is the performance of the music.  The third act is the resulting political discourse and message that changes the world, if only slightly and transiently.

So, what do I conclude from my ramblings above?

  1. Every bit of music that we make is political in content, but not necessarily political in concept
  2. For music that is political in concept, it music be made sincerely, in good faith, not naively, and mindful of the context and history of society and politics
  3. Politics is deeply related to one’s values, and one’s emotional well-being
  4. Musicians whose primary talent is music have every right to use that talent politically if they wish to
  5. If they wish to use their music politically, there are 3 steps to the creation of a successful political music:
    1. Write the music.  Be aware of the context in which the piece lives.  Do your research.  Do not honor cliches, do not make your music suffer under a concept, and do it with musical integrity
    2. Get the music performed.  Public presence (this includes online sharing/streaming/videos) is the root of all politics, and so public performance serves one’s music and one’s message best.  In this, I count online media as public performance
    3. Hopefully, the music has created a dialogue.  Be prepared to be challenged on your ideas.  No one is right 100% of the time.  Be prepared to defend your ideals.  Challenge those whom you think need a challenge.  Be unafraid.  Change perspectives and never become dogmatic.  Ideas are fleeting; the ultimate goal is to make the world less full of suffering.

And finally, please don’t write music like this: