Protest march

Is Music Just a Fancy Version of “Thoughts and Prayers”?

As a Canadian — and because this is a songwriting blog — I haven’t had a lot to say about American politics. And believe me, there’s a lot one can say. I align myself firmly with those who are deeply concerned about what is happening in the U.S. “Extreme vetting” is a dangerous doorway to the normalizing of prejudicial behaviour, and I would never have expected it from the “leader of the free world” (a term which, sadly, now seems to belong in quotes.)

The numbers of good Americans who have been exercising their rights to free speech for the past week, from the Women’s Marches (in the U.S., but all over the world as well), to the protests at many American airports this past weekend, give one at least a measure of hope.

I feel immense pride that Canada has accepted tens of thousands of refugees who are trying desperately to escape danger and find a new way of life for themselves and their families, and long may it continue.

I wanted to address something that does, in fact, relate to songwriting, and it has to do with a term I’ve seen a lot on Facebook, Twitter and other social media: “Thoughts and prayers.”

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the sentiment expressed when someone posts “thoughts and prayers” after a terrorist bombing. It’s a big world, and sometimes it seems that all we have are our “thoughts and prayers.” I am, like many Canadians and others around the world, devastated by the killings yesterday at a Québec City mosque, and today I have my own thoughts and prayers.

I hope it’s not too unfair of me to say that when a politician — someone who can actually do something — tweets out “thoughts and prayers,” I get a little frustrated. Thanks for the thoughts, but now do something, I find myself occasionally muttering.

But I wonder… is music just a fancy version of “thoughts and prayers”? When you hear about injustices in the world, about hurting, killing and unspeakable cruelties — do you ever feel that writing a song that expresses your feelings about it all falls considerably short of being at all helpful in any tangible way?

I used to feel that way, but I don’t anymore. I most certainly do believe in the power of the creative arts to poignantly communicate who we are and what we stand for.

You can tell people what you think, and I hope you live in a country that allows you to do that with ease. But there is a certain indescribable power that comes from singing what you think. Of putting your thoughts and prayers into a musical form.

With every song you write, you add to the artistic lexicon of the world. You do what artists have always done, and have always had to do: express yourself.

As concerned citizens of the world, it’s important that we use whatever means we have at our disposal to peacefully but firmly support freedom and to help those who need our help, wherever we see that need arise.

But in the meantime, and in and around those tangible efforts to help others, don’t ever feel that your songwriting is unimportant. You might do well to think of songs as very small seeds, seeds that can help to build the kind of world we’d all like to see.

So if you are a songwriter, please keep writing. Keep expressing your “thoughts and prayers” in musical form. Your songs can give those who need it some courage, and even embolden and empower others who need it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Posted in Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Pingback: Is Music Just a Fancy Version of “Thoughts and Prayers”? - The Hit Songwriting Formula | The Hit Songwriting Formula

  2. Hi Gary,
    Songwriters, from my perspective of 69 years, sing about what touches them, about what they feel and know in their hearts. Subjects are as varied as life itself, the points of view expressed are very personal as we reach out to find that thread of commonality with those who actually take the time to listen. We put the emotions of our hearts and the most private of thoughts out there in all their vulnerability in an attempt to reach out to say “Am I the only one who feels/thinks this way? “. This wonderful, powerful gift of writing songs can and has changed generations and how we think of “others” and ourselves. You just have to look back, if you are old enough to remember, to the peace movement of the 60s and 70s. Music reflects who we are, what we truly believe. One thing is for sure, it is not independent of the political events and time in which it is written. It can be a very powerful agent of change that one could argue preaches to the converted, but it can also be argued it gives a focus to those who may think they are alone in their thoughts and brings them together. One could argue everything in one’s life is governed by things politcal. Everything from daycare to corn or oil subsities. In non democracies artists are not free to write what they see as the truth without the continuous threat of real concrete reprecussions hanging over their heads. We are incredibly priviledged to be free of such intimdation, for now, because nothing can be taken for granted, certainly not freedom of expression, as we have seen in so many places in the world. So let us sing out our songs like birds, my friends. They can be about any subject you hold dear to your diverse existence, think about that. But I would suggest, if you do write, you do not hold back on subject matter that may be a bit political in nature. You do so at your peril, waking up tomorrow is not a given, neither is the artistic freedom to write the music you love and think is important and a part of you. Did you ever notice that in historical events from the past where governments take on a dictatorial bent that artists and free critical thinkers are the first on the persecution list? Write all you want, about whatever you want but don’t ignore the reality of the politcal world on the freedom of songwriting.

  3. When an artist expresses an opinion through their art, it is so much more effective than when they choose to preach. Lately far too many artists have been preaching when they should have been creating. Frankly, artists who preach are a total bore. If you feel strongly enough about an issue or a situation then create something through your art that addresses it. As the old saying goes … talk is cheap.

    • Hi Judson:

      Yes, I think I tend to agree with you. I remember hearing an interview with Bob Dylan once, where he was commenting on how people often would ask him his opinion on “world peace” types of issues. He said it always confused him, in the sense that just because he was a famous singer-songwriter, his opinion suddenly mattered. As far as he was concerned, he was just like any other guy with an opinion.

      As musicians, we do have this ability to create art that expresses our thoughts and feelings, and I think artists have been doing that for centuries. As a musician, I have my own take on the world, but I don’t expect that my opinions should be valued any more than the opinions of the person working the cash at the local Walmart. As someone who composes, I probably have the opportunity to reach a wider audience if I choose to use my music to do that, but I never fool myself into thinking that my music validates my politics. When all is said and done, I’m just a guy with an opinion. And long live our freedom to express it.

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, Judson.

  4. As an American who is deeply disturbed by recent events in my country, I am encouraged by your words from “up there”.

  5. I recognize your process and your conclusions because I have reached similar conclusions through a similar process. Well said. I will keep writing and saying what I thin needs to be said. Thanks.

  6. I don’t appreciate the foray into politics. I come here for the songwriting tips not political opinion. Whether we should see more of this will determine whether I remain a subscriber.

    • Thanks Bill, I appreciate your comment. I’ve written over 1700 blog posts over the past 10 years, none of which have had anything to do with politics. This was obliquely about politics, but mostly about the ability that all songwriters have to express themselves through their music.

      Have a great day,

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