Open Letter: Call to musicians

Sam Malone

As I reflect with a heavy heart and torn up soul upon what has happened in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, I urge musicians to take this tragedy and create something beautiful with it rather than letting it stop us in our tracks. At a time when people came together to forget their troubles for a moment, all that was before them was taken away as deadly bullets soared through the sky, ending so many lives.

Going down as the deadliest shooting in American history, on Oct. 1 Stephen Paddock opened fire during Jason Aldean’s set at the large-scale music festival, which drew over 22,000 music lovers. The incident left 59 killed, 515 injured and everybody in shock.

I think it’s safe to say we are all affected in one way or another by the attack in Mandalay. However, as a musician myself, I feel it a personal duty to remind music lovers and musicians alike this will not stop us.

Music is an escape. A language which crosses all cultures, opinions and social statuses to bring humanity together despite all odds is one that cannot be so easily destroyed. These are the times we embrace one another with compassion to fight back against the violence pulling at the threads of our foundation.

“As a musician, I think our job is to put a colorful lens on the world,” Chris Kenney, junior percussion performance major said. “Maybe we pose challenging questions that get people to think, and sometimes we need that. Music is very complex and something like a tragedy like [the Vegas shooting,] I don’t think it’ll ever take away the effect music has on society. It’s important, and I think it highlights us more.”

Songwriting is an extremely personal activity, and when something this traumatic happens, we all struggle with handling the aftermath, but musicians survive by creating beauty from destruction. Rather than letting this attack stop us in our tracks, I urge musicians to continue writing because there is power in the music.

People rely on music and, in turn, on the composers of those colorful chords and lyrics that express internal and external struggles. While this may not have been a direct attack on music, we must fight back by continuing to write and express those feelings, using this as ammunition to drive us forward.

A testament to the need for music in light of these heavy situations comes from Chicago musician, Pete Stillwell. Stillwell said this was the first time he felt a song was being pulled out of him seamlessly as words flowed through the pen when he wrote “Down by the Mandalay,” a tribute to the victims in Vegas.

“When tragedy strikes, the true song is written,” Stillwell said. “It comes from a place of purity, not forcefulness so it’s more important now than ever for people who feel compelled to write to do it at a time such as this. There is a true healing quality of music, but only if it’s done from the heart.”

Stillwell set an example I urge all musicians to follow because, while doctors may be needed in hospitals and police may be needed on the streets, music is needed in the heart and soul. Broken bones can heal with time, but it is only through creative expression and compassion the mind finds relief.

Our jobs may not be as dangerous as running into the gunfire, but we have a responsibility to provide comfort. Stillwell’s song has reached over 35,000 views since being posted to Facebook; a clear indication of the fact people need our music to say the things they cannot express through choked up tears.

Rather than letting this tragic attack win and stop us in our tracks, we need to channel those emotions, put some words on a page and send our melodies to the ears of those whose hearts ache.