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«Peace, Salaam, Shalom: Functions of Collective Singing in U.S. Peace Activism Article · January 2010 Source: DOAJ READS 1 author: Jeneve Brooks ...»

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"Peace, Salaam, Shalom": Functions of

Collective Singing in U.S. Peace Activism

Article · January 2010

Source: DOAJ


1 author:

Jeneve Brooks

Troy University



Available from: Jeneve Brooks

Retrieved on: 12 May 2016

Music and Arts in Action | Volume 2 | Issue 2

“Peace, Salaam, Shalom”:

Functions of Collective Singing in U.S. Peace Activism


Department of Sociology and Anthropology | Fordham University | USA *


This article adds to the emerging literature on music and conflict transformation by highlighting the use of collective singing by U.S. peace activists when engaged in various peace movement activities. Based on preliminary findings from focus groups with peace activists and in-depth interviews with notable peace musicians, this article asserts that group sing alongs have helped in mobilizing U.S. peace activism efforts over the last four decades through three specific functions: 1) extending frames to include broader peace and justice issues; 2) strengthening cognitive liberation amongst activists; and 3) appealing to and reinforcing a wide range of activists’ emotions. Although the group sing along may seem passé within some activist circles, this article affirms that it has served and continues to serve key functions in the peace protest repertoire. The article concludes with a discussion of issues that threaten the future of group sing alongs and urges conflict transformation practitioners and peace movement leaders to recognize the utility of collective singing so as to reinvigorate this long-standing tradition within social movements.

* 441 E. Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458, USA © Music and Arts in Action/Jeneve R. Brooks 2010 | ISSN: 1754-7105 | Page 56 http://musicandartsinaction.net/index.php/maia/article/view/antiwarsongs Music and Arts in Action | Volume 2 | Issue 2


We believe in peace, we can work for peace, we will live in peace. (Lyrics from the song, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom” by Pat Humphries and Sandy O of Emma’s Revolution) This paper seeks to add to the developing field of music and conflict transformation by examining the uses of collective singing inU.S. peace activism over the last four decades. Drawing on focus groups conducted with U.S. peace activists and interviews with distinguished peace musicians, this paper argues that collective singing has served three critical functions in mobilizing U.S. peace building efforts: 1) extending frames to include broader peace and justice issues; 2) strengthening cognitive liberation amongst activists; and 3) appealing to and reinforcing a wide range of activists’ emotions. Before delving into the study’s methods and findings, I will first explain how I became interested in analyzing the use of collective singing amongst U.S. peace activists. I will then provide a brief overview of the music and conflict transformation literature, highlighting how work on “collective singing” in social movements can add to the field. Given my explicit focus on collective singing as a social movements’ strategy, I then discuss the three concepts that theoretically ground this article from the social movements literature: frame extension, cognitive liberation, and emotions.

As a musician and sociologist interested in culture and social movements, I often mused about the seeming silence of innovative anti-war music in the U.S. mass media since America began its latest wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. My dissertation entitled “The Silent Soundtrack: Anti-war Music from Vietnam to Iraq,” explored the presence of anti-war music in the U.S. mass media, primarily comparing historical trends in the amount and popularity of anti-war music from the Vietnam era to the Afghanistan/Iraq era1, utilizing a critical media framework (Brooks 2009). The main focus of my dissertation was the completion and analysis of an original database of nearly 3,000 anti-war songs that were commercially released in the U.S. from 1963This database represents the most comprehensive dataset on American antiwar music in the mass media that has been completed to date. (Please see YouTube video explaining the study’s main findings).

As part of my dissertation, I also conducted video interviews with expert informants in music, peace movements, and media (including notable musicians like Pete Seeger and Peter Yarrow2) and reviewed various literatures to supplement the database analysis.3 My questions in the focus groups and interviews highlighted a range of topics (i.e., differences in amount and popularity of anti-war music between the Vietnam and Afghanistan/Iraq eras, the role of protest music in socializing the participants into activist identities, views on the changing U.S. media landscape that has altered the way anti-war music is disseminated, etc.). Due to the diverse topics covered in my 1 I selected January 1, 1963 as the starting date for the Vietnam conflict, due to the fact that this was the year that the U.S. noticeably increased its presence in Vietnam to 15,000 military advisors. The end date was arbitrarily set at December 31, 2007 due to the fact that the War in Afghanistan and the 2nd War in Iraq still continues. My dissertation focused on a comparison between the two eras of Vietnam and Afghanistan/Iraq, given that these wars represent the longest military ventures in American history and resulted in anti-war protests in the different periods that questioned American’s use of military force vs. strengthening diplomatic efforts.

2 Brief artist biographies are included in the appendix.

3 Currently, I am formalizing my findings and am conducting more video interviews with anti-war musicians and media scholars, as well as leading focus groups with peace activists to transform my research into a book and documentary film.

–  –  –

research, I was surprised by the extent that group sing alongs were alluded to in both the focus group discussions and in the artists’ interviews. This led me to study the topic of collective singing more deeply and to analyze how it may have served functions in mobilizing U.S. peace activism.




The music and conflict transformation literature is still developing and contains a number of disparate emphases (Bergh, 2010; Urbain et al., 2008). According to Bergh (2010), music and conflict transformation studies have focused on everything from small and large scale cross-cultural music events (Beckles, 2007; Frith & Street, 1992; Skyllstad, 1995), reconciliation (Gray, 2008), music therapy as a means to heal traumatic memories related to conflicts (Jordanger, 2008; Vinader, 2008), and much more.4 Recently, studies that focus on “collective singing” in social movements have also begun to emerge in the music and conflict transformation literature (Benison, 2009;

Whitehead, 2008), although these studies are less prevalent than the aforementioned research areas. Benison’s study of the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza strip is particularly notable given that he considered the impact of different types of group sing alongs for both the protestors and for those to whom the collective singing was targeted: namely the security force members charged with the task of evacuating the Jewish settlements. In Benison’s study, protestors expressed hope that their singing would cause the security force members to reconsider their orders and would dissuade them from carrying out the evacuations. Ultimately, Benison found that although the collective singing did not cause the security force members to disobey their orders to perform the evacuations, the protestors’ singing of quiet and sad religious songs did emotionally touch the security members and caused them to feel greater empathy for the protestors.

In addition to engendering outsider support, one of the key functions of collective singing is to create solidarity amongst social movement activists themselves. In their influential work, Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the Twentieth Century, Eyerman and Jamison explain how collective singing, born out of the African American traditions of the Negro spiritual and church gospel music, helped to strengthen the resolve and commitment of civil rights activists (1998). In this way, group sing alongs served as an inspiration for activists as they engaged in high-risk protest activities (i.e., facing police dogs, clubs, fire hoses, and sneering counter protestors) or after the protests to lift their spirits as they were held in desolate jail cells. They also describe how collective singing acted as a bridge to coalesce the wide range of groups that were involved in the civil rights movement 5 (e.g., varying class 4 The literature cited here represents a fraction of the work done in these areas. Bergh (2008; 2010) has conducted one of the most comprehensive reviews of the literature to date and has developed a useful typology for categorizing the work done in music and conflict transformation.

5 The African American Civil Rights movement started in 1955 with the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama (Eyerman and Jamison 1998). Through this action, African Americans were protesting being relegated to sit at the back of the bus when whites boarded. This boycott was followed by ten years of intense protest activity which sough full equality for African Americans in American society (e.g., sit-ins to integrate segregated lunch counters, freedom rides to integrate private bus lines, various marches to demand civil rights, voter registration drives to ensure blacks the right to vote, etc.). The movement was largely considered over after the U.S. Congress passed Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

–  –  –

and status groups, black and white supporters, and blacks from different regions— rural and urban/northern and southern).

In addition, Eyerman and Jamison assert that group sing along songs lent them to shared performance given that the melodies were simple and the choruses were easily repeatable (1998). Furthermore, they note that the songs were not dogmatic or overly ideological so as to be inclusive as possible, reflecting universal themes of brotherhood and integration.

Based on the above discussion, it is clear that collective singing—as a social movement strategy—can add to the music and conflict transformation field. Given that my focus is on social movements in particular, I next explore three concepts from the social movement literature that theoretically ground my arguments concerning the functions of collective singing in U.S. peace activism.


The concepts of frames and framing were first popularized by the work of Erving Goffman (1974), and later expanded by David Snow and his colleagues who defined frames as “schemata of interpretation that enable individuals to locate, perceive, identify, and label occurrences within their life space and the world at large” (1986, p.

464). When social movements are involved in actively framing an issue, they are strategically deciding how to present a narrative about the issue in question to the public. In attempting to “grow” a movement, Snow and his colleagues argue that frame extension is one of the key mobilization strategies. Frame extension is defined as the extent to which activists and social movement organizations “have to extend the boundaries of its primary framework so as to encompass interests or points of view that are incidental to its primary objectives but of considerable salience to potential adherents” (1986, p. 472). Snow et al. illustrate frame extension by explaining the efforts of a mostly white Austin, Texas-based peace coalition who attempted to expand their framing to include racial and ethnic minorities. They note that a new goal was placed prominently in their promotional literature: “to promote social justice by non-violently confronting racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination and oppression” (1986, p. 472). This notion of extending frames to include broader peace and justice issues in order to outreach to a larger pool of potential members was a key element that my respondents discussed and will be explored more in this paper.


The concept of cognitive liberation is an integral part of the Political Process Model that was developed by McAdam (1982) to explain how social movements emerge.

Originally theorized to explain the emergence of the Civil Rights movement, McAdam asserts that the black freedom struggle was abetted by three conflating factors: 1) expanding political opportunities (i.e., the decline of cotton industry in the early 1900s which led to increasing black migration to the north and the subsequent empowerment of the black vote and the growth of the Democratic party); 2) indigenous organizational strength (i.e., the increasing emergence of Southern NAACP chapters, black colleges and the black church); and 3) cognitive liberation (i.e., blacks increasingly defined their situations as unjust and believed it could change through collective action) (1982).

–  –  –

In developing this concept of cognitive liberation, McAdam stresses the importance of the group process in movement participants’ interpretation of cues that political

change is possible through social movement action. He states:

The key phrase here is ‘groups of people.’…the process of cognitive liberation is held to be both more likely and of far greater consequence under conditions of strong rather than weak social integration…In the absence of strong interpersonal links to others, people are likely to feel powerless to change conditions…. (1982, p.

50) This article will illustrate how group sing alongs served the function of building cognitive liberation amongst peace activists by creating a sense of collectivity that empowered them to believe that they could affect change through their peace activism.


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