Monday Musical Moment: MMM: Worldly Music

Justin Langham   -  
Happy Monday!
You’ve likely heard this before: “Music is a universal language.”
Throughout my career so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to make music with colleagues and friends from around the world, both here in the U.S. and abroad. I’ll quickly tell you about a memorable experience I had:
In 2012, I traveled with the University of Alabama wind ensemble on a 10-day concert tour of Italy. We began in Italy and traveled north, stopping several times for concerts either by ourselves or with an Italian ensemble. One concert we did was in a small town with an absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous theater, one of those ones you see in travel magazines or in historical documentaries. When we met the other group for a joint rehearsal, we all sat together in one ensemble and realized quickly that none of the other players, who were various ages, spoke a word English.
Although trying to converse verbally was challenging, I felt that rehearsing together was the easiest things in the world. As we each learned music from the other group, we would demonstrate how the different sections sounded through both singing and playing for each other, and we quickly became very friendly with each other, even though none of us could speak the other’s language.
One of the pieces we were to perform together was an arrangement of the timeless aria “Nessun Dorma” from Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. Needless to say, the Italians showed us how to really play this gem of Italian musical culture without ever saying a word! At the climax towards the end of the piece, the entire back row of trumpeters stood up at once and played together to a raucous applause from the local Italians before we even played the last note. It was truly one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.
Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, where we celebrated our shared humanity through the welcoming to the communion table, and by singing music from all over the world. Our choral anthem was called “Tumekuja Kuimba,” which is Swahili for “We have come to sing,” and even though a small minority of our congregation understood Swahili, the music was still able to communicate that message.
This week, I would like to share one of my favorite musicians from the past few years. Burna Boy. He is a Nigerian artist who has amassed a huge following all over the world, including winning the 2019 GRAMMY for Best World Music Album. Although you may not be able to understand some of what he is singing, his music communicates so authentically, which explains his crossover appeal in so many different languages. I mentioned Burna Boy previously in this column back in May, and it will likely not be the last time! Here is one of my favorites, “Common Person.”
Have a great week!