One Berlin Wall museum – I think there are at least two – seems to play David Bowie’s epic song ‘Heroes’ on a continuous loop at high volume. It makes a fearless soundscape against which to view grainy back and white footage of the wall’s history and more recent colour film of it tumbling down. Fittingly recorded by Bowie in West Berlin in 1977, the song tells the story of doomed lovers from either side of the wall. It’s electrifying in its repetitive, relentless intensity, and carries huge emotional heft as you stand alongside a crumbling but preserved stretch of it.
In August 1991 Estonia declared its independence from the Soviet Union after four years of the ‘singing revolution.’ On one day, earlier in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians joined with Latvians and Lithuanians in a long cross-border Baltic line to sing patriotic songs of protest that finally persuaded the local administrations that radical change was necessary. This was the culmination of Estonians in particular taking every opportunity to sing their songs in public places. When it really mattered thousands surrounded Soviet tanks and sang at the crews. The Tallinn city museum presents another moving musical exhibit that describes this.
And so to Turin in May 2022, and Ukraine’s astonishing victory in the Eurovision Song Contest, carried along on an amazing tidal wave of public support. With a modern take on traditional tunes, the Kalush Orchestra danced, played, and sang their hearts out to a continent – plus Australia – that willed them and their country to succeed. Such is the power of song to move and inspire, and provide anthems that tell stories of heroism and ambition, but also loss and tragedy.
Of course there are many other songs or pieces of music that have the same impact. Sibelius’ Finlandia and the Karelia Suite, which inspired a generation of Finns to seek their independence from Russia in the late 19th century, seem quite apposite today. Bob Marley’s Redemption Song also seems to have the power to move metaphorical mountains for many.
So the soundtrack of our lives may well be punctuated by tunes that make us smile, laugh, cry, spur us into action or want to shout from the rooftops in anger. Whatever your personal favourite, let’s try to make our actions in response really count.