By Krystyn Hartman…
Ever wonder why the arts are the first to see their funding cut during unstable times? Ever wonder where the idea that arts are “nonessential services” comes from? I used to wonder that too.
The movie The Sound of Music had a profound effect on me as a child. I was too young certainly to understand its climate of politics and war and all that (I was only five or six), but what did take hold of me was the undeniable power of music as a survival tool. For all their position and resources, none of which could save them from certain doom, it was music that allowed the big dysfunctional family and the singing governess to escape to the pretty mountains. And the fact that the bad guys in the movie never sang a single note was not lost on me either.
As I got older, I learned of numerous events, both ancient and contemporary, where music and the arts changed the course of history. I concluded that China’s cultural revolution, only a few generations past, for example, was about suppressing and controlling the arts — to make way for more essential “social” services as promised under a then-new Communist regime.
I’d forgotten about The Sound of Music and childhood memories of its cinematic detail. Forgotten, that is, until more than 20 years later, when I happened to land in Estonia on the heels of its “Singing Revolution,” an organized event in defiance of the USSR’s long-contested occupation of the small Baltic nation. Armed only with their voices and their songs, the determined Estonians won their independence — an event that marked the official beginning of the end of the USSR. Oh sure, the end of the USSR was inevitable, but Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” served as the the opening ceremony.
Although rich with artistic license, The Sound of Music is based on the story of a real family. The Estonians really did press their independence with a “Singing Revolution.” Music, singing — all the arts — have power to change a community or an entire nation. Even if state and federal funding are diminished, the creative power of a people will flourish and thrive.
When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he simply replied “Then what are we fighting for?”