Making music together

I love watching videos of musical flashmobs, and apparently I am not alone, based on the popularity of their videos.

I am jealous when they are filmed in places where I frequently find myself, because it NEVER happens when I am there.

Our head office is about 2 minutes from Antwerp’s Central Station, but I’ve never heard the Sound of Music:

I’m in Brussels often, but the Central Station there is never this interesting when I’m there (Queen’s Bicycle):

As a road warrior, I spend a lot of time at airports, but the arrivals hall has never been this joyous:


My conclusion after seeing how people react to all these flash mobs is that one of the biggest problems in modern society is that we no longer make music together on a daily basis. Families used to gather around the piano to sing (however badly), travellers used to gather around the campfire, villagers used to gather around the well, in the field and during daily other tasks. Instead, we each sit in our corner listening to OUR music and musical communion is far too rare. And desperately needed.

As a singer and an instrumentalist (oboe and clarinet), I have had the privilege to make music with some amazingly talented people. And more, importantly, I’ve had an opportunity to interact with audiences in multiple countries, even when we didn’t speak a common language. Some of my deepest, most enduring friendships are the product of my involvement in musical groups. Some of my most poignant memories are related to concerts in which I’ve performed.

This underscores several points that I believe passionately:

  • Creating positive, beautiful things together binds people deeply.
  • Sincere joy and celebration can overcome almost all differences.
  • Our daily lives are too focused on individual, fragmenting activities and not enough on truly working together.


For me, one of the keys to stakeholder relations, cross-cultural management and other bridge-building endeavors is to identify a common aspiration, however small, and to work side-by-side to achieve it. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. But if we can find this initial common ground and plant seeds that will grow into something we have both contributed to, then we can open up new possibilities.

This is why I get frustrated with decision-making and policy-making discussions that focus excessively on principles and dogma. It is too easy to revert to entrenched positions, whereas choosing a concrete problem forces us to be creative together. Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman understood that when they proposed the European Coal and Steel Community. They knew that the first step to achieving peace in Europe was to have the French and the German governments cooperate intensely on a core issue. They also knew that the effect would be even stronger if that cooperation entailed joint management of the raw materials of war machines.

And this cooperation is good, but so is celebration. That is why we countries have national holidays, anthems, flags and fireworks. That is why business and diplomatic meetings include dinners, parties and spectacles.

But more than anything, we need more music in surprising places to delight us, but to delight us spontaneously and publicly so that we drop our defenses and simply enjoy the moment together.


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