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Music as the Currency of Hope

Music, in your hands and hearts, can be a bridge of hope to peoples of our plant who so desperately need encouragement, understanding, and compassion. Music also provides a common ground for the exchange of values that mere words and symbols cannot communicate. Robert Shaw shares another thought about music's value to society. "Across the boundaries of time and space music extends an open hand instead of a closed fist."

So how will we influence the world that is ours to share with billions of other fellow human beings? Can music solve the world's political and economic problems? No—those problems have political and economic solutions. But music can enable appropriate conversations to take place. Our art has the capacity to bring disparate peoples, creeds, and values to one round table of civil discourse.

Birthrights and Bridges: The Transformative Power of Music

We all remember our early encounters with music, our development and maturation, and most importantly, an unquenchable passion for our art. Few of us, if any, could have imagined the artistic and professional journeys that a half-century later brought us to this celebration. Our common and shared privilege is a musical birthright, and such privilege carries the concomitant responsibility of cultural leadership. Music gives wings to hope, and hope gives meaning to our lives and our work. Because the future is unknown, this is possible. Why would anyone have hope of winning an international competition or receiving a professorship if the outcome were know? Why work and pray for human dignity, peace, and global understanding if we know our inhumanity will destroy civilization? Hope gives value to life, not with quick answers and the big lie, but through the daily routine of living with beauty and small truths. The birthright of music assures the presence of hope. Indeed, one's talent may be denied, but it cannot be discarded.

Music's transformative power is felt time and time again. Several years ago, CNN film footage showed Afghan citizens digging cassette tapes of their folk music from bullet-cracked walls. Do you recall the lone cellist who honored the fallen people of Sarajevo with his daily musical offering, and more recently, do you remember stunned New Yorkers singing "God Bless America" as the ruins of the twin towers still smoldered in the background? Music transcends geographical and human boundaries and in so doing, binds us together.


Why does music have value for society? Perhaps Voltaire offers a plausible insight to this simple and vexing question. Music, he says, "next to food, clothing, and shelter, is the greatest human need." Music's concern extends far beyond skill: it embraces the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturation of humanity. Could it also be that by offering hope, music is a principal custodian of human dignity?

The Responsibilities of Privilege

The extraordinary resources of this venerable University and school represent the trust and confidence of alumni and friends, a bond that now spans over 300 years. The recent transformative gifts to the School of Music lend further credence to the responsibilities of privilege. These are not mere accidents of good fortune. Why has Yale always embraced music, and why do we invest in you? The answer is simple: the future of music as we know it is held in your hearts, hands, and minds. And music, more than any other art, is the most accessible bridge of understanding between the peoples, creeds, and politics of this planet we inhabit together. ... This responsibility seeks to sustain the value of music as a defining and transformative presence in our lives. It affirms why all peoples sing in times of joy and in times of grief. We hope and expect that you, as artists and cultural leaders, will extend and exceed the efforts we have made in our time.

What Lies Within

What lies within that led you to this place? Do you recall when you were absolutely seduced by music? Was it the beauty of a melody, an incessant rhythmic pulse, or neither? Was it your parents' vinyl albums or your first concert experience? Was it a teacher's passion for music, a parent's love, or both? Why did music capture you? Surely your musical journey has been adventurous and, I suspect, characterized by a kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions. What causes you to pursue a life that is often confined to a practice room and virtually guarantees financial insecurity?


What lies within you that ignites the impulse to ensure that music is the birthright of all children, all people — and that it is not limited to the elite of society? At this critical intersection of talent and commitment, we are directed, I believe, to employ our talent for the improvement of self and service to humankind.