Using Music to Heal Communities After Disaster

After a community experiences disaster, people rally to provide basic resources: food, shelter, clothing. However, other healing resources are equally important: a safe space to talk about feelings, a warm hug when it is needed, and an opportunity to express emotions creatively, through art, dance, writing, and music.

Music in particular is an important healing tool after a disaster, both because of its ability to help people process emotions and because music is, by nature, a community activity. Choirs and bands join together, practicing and preparing as one. During performances, even more of the community comes together to listen and share the experience.

This means that music is often just as important to a community after a disaster as any other type of healing resource. Here are two examples of how communities have used music to heal:

Newton, Connecticut

The town of Newton, Connecticut, which was shattered by a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, has worked hard to use music as a healing tool. Just two days after the December 14, 2012 shooting, the New York City Children’s Chorus sang a tribute to Sandy Hook students on Saturday Night Live.

As the months continued, musicians continued to support the struggling children and families. In January, Talking Heads duo Tina Waymouth and Chris Frantz joined Newton music teachers to work with Newton students and record them singing “Over the Rainbow.” In February, Sandy Hook students traveled to New Orleans to sing “America the Beautiful” with Jennifer Hudson at the Super Bowl. In August, the town joined together to stage “Seussical: The Musical,” as part of the 12.14 Foundation’s attempts to continue the healing process.

To quote a young Newton student: “The planet Who is a place that has gone through hardships and a lot of tough times — and then Horton the elephant comes along and helps them keep safe and helps them heal. I feel like this show and everyone involved in it are like the ‘Hortons of Newtown’ because they’re really helping us get through and heal through this situation. It really means a lot to me and everyone in this town.”

Moore, Oklahoma

This May, an EF5 tornado struck the town of Moore, Oklahoma, destroying nearly everything in its path. The town responded by rebuilding, but also by joining together with music.

Just a week after the disaster, music stars Usher, Michael Buble, Reba McEntire, and Blake Shelton joined other musicians in a “Healing in the Heartland” concert. Other musicians joined together to release “Moore Music for Oklahoma – Helping to Heal, One Song at a Time.”

The young people of Moore were not left out — in August, Cash America International, Inc. and the Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra rallied to have over 100 instruments donated to the Moore, Oklahoma school district. To quote band director Angie Taylor: ““I really did not know what we were going to do. School was starting soon, and we did not have enough instruments to go around. For so many students, band and music is a lifeline that helps keep them in school. Now we can start school as if it were a normal year.”

Angie Taylor and other music educators realize the value of music lessons as a healing tool. So do parents. After New York City’s Hurricane Sandy, for example, making sure kids still had access to local music lessons and daily practice was an important part of rebuilding neighborhoods devastated by the hurricane. After a tragedy, it’s important for children to participate in positive, familiar routines.

The next time disaster hits a community near you, think about bringing the gift of music. Whether you are a music educator or simply a music lover, giving the gift of your time or your funds to a struggling community can help bring the healing power of music to those who need it most.