Music can inspire and enlighten. It can create the right mood and subdue our sorrows. It can calm our mind and bring peace to our souls. Music can be our constant companion. It can be shared at just about any moment or event, whether it be walking down the aisle or closing the funeral casket. Music can be found at almost every turn.
While music is an essential part of our personal lives, it can also be an appropriate tool in the business and academic worlds.
At every conference and large meeting I direct in the U.K., music is always involved. I will have an opening song and/or closing song. I will have music groups perform at professional dinners. Music is a helpful companion, but sometimes a forgotten instrument when it comes to business.
In my line of work, I am surrounded by many different types of people with various backgrounds — people of many different nationalities, religious interests and political persuasions. Music seems to be one of the key components of life that can be carried across cultures. No matter one’s socioeconomic class, almost everyone can feel and understand music. People who live on opposite sides of the world can relate and connect. It can break down walls, cross barriers and build a sense of common purpose. This is especially true when I can get people to sing together.
What is most interesting is that music also brings a sense of vulnerability and openness to a meeting. People sense that they are taking a risk — especially when they sing with others they have not met. But, once they have done it, they are usually open to almost anything that comes next.
This process of singing with strangers, at times, can make some feel uncomfortable. Let’s face it, singing with strangers is a bit odd. When I ask people to sing at conferences, a confused, questioning look sometimes appears on some faces. However, when the music starts, and people from different backgrounds come together in song, things get better quickly.
Music is way of communication. I might not be able to tell you a huge thank you or that I care about you in every language, and in many circumstances it is not appropriate to do so. However, with music I am able to express myself across boundaries. I can communicate how I feel in a fitting manner whether the receiver is my student or a conference goer whom I have never met.
When used correctly, music can build relationships, communicate emotions and create a harmonious union. Music is a powerful force for good that is widely underused in the workplace.
In the U.K., there is a tragic event remembered and known by almost all. At a professional football (soccer) game in Hillsborough on April 25, 1989, during an FA cup semifinal game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, fans trying to enter the stadium pushed against one another after authorities had failed to open a gate. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured, it is the worst disaster in British sporting history.
Following the disaster, several stories spread of the song “Abide with Me” being sung on the field and in the stadium. Although spectators have been singing “Abide with Me” before the FA Cup finals since 1927, this tune has taken on special significance since Hillsborough. We sing it each year at one of the conferences I hold at Oxford. It brings a somber feeling to a meeting, a sense of remembering those less fortunate than ourselves.
I like the feeling, whether somber or joyful, that music can bring to a meeting.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. Melisa Monroe, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.