It was a seemingly endless search, looking for a speaker that inspires me sounded difficult at best because there aren’t many who are vocal, that really seem to capture the art and the power of music without turning it into only business. Until, that is, I happened upon a strange title, just enough to catch the attention. “Abigail Washburn, improving us-china relations…by banjo.” I was intrigued, enough that I clicked on the selection on the TED website and for six minutes and thirty-four seconds, I was spellbound.
Abigail Washburn started out life in law and Washington DC, with intentions of going to China to study their laws, and help improve relations. According to her speech, before she was scheduled to leave for the Far East, while at a party, she heard her first banjo tune. She said “in that moment, I knew I had to take a banjo with me to China”. Described as a clawhammer banjo player, she cites many influences, but strives to incorporate many genres and techniques, even blending Chinese and American styles into her own unique music.
After leaving college, she traveled through the Appalachian Mountains, home to bluegrass and country n’ western, learning traditional songs straight from the source. It was in Kentucky at Bluegrass convention when a record executive from Nashville approached her about cutting an album. The rest, as they say, is history, and two full solo albums later, she is a much sought after artist for shows all around the US and China.
The inspiration in this woman’s words is her absence of guile about why she plays and sings the music she creates with such passion. Ms. Washburn’s statement, “I see the power of music, I see the power of music to connect cultures, to connect hearts,” is one that should hit home for all of us in the industry. That is what we are here for, that kind of passion for the art is what touches that flame in all of us, and is what we, as industry professionals, should never forget. Sadly though, this get taken out of the equation more often than not.
She also illustrates the power of music when describing one of her trips to China to help with the Sichuan Quake Relief efforts. She was performing at one of the relocation schools for the children of the quake, and how a little girl who had lost her mother asked to sing a special song to Ms. Washburn. Her description of it was so powerful and moving, to see how music connects us all, not just by country but as human beings is a moving illustration of the power of music. “In that moment, we weren’t are American-selves, we weren’t our Chinese-selves, we where just mortals, sitting together in that light that keeps us here.” It is that light that music brings, that light that moves us, reminds us just who we are. She also states that in that moment she has realized her true calling. “I want to dwell in that light with you, with everybody, and I know that US-China Relations doesn’t need another lawyer.”
Her idea to think globally and act locally is one that every person who wishes to make a difference must do. Start where you live, find the next big thing that touches a part of you, and then figure out how to get it out there so it can touch everyone. Most of all teach and foster those that will follow you. That, in essence, is at the heart of everything I do in music. I think globally and act locally believing that there are good people out there, like me, trying to make a difference, not just make a buck.