Manchester and Music

It’s taken me over a week to even be able to articulate how I feel about the attack in Manchester on 22 May. It was somewhat surreal waking up last Tuesday to news notifications announcing the deaths and injuries of people at the Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena.

Acts of terrorism are happening all over the world and I think I’d be right in presuming that those of us in the UK and the US don’t read the articles on them with the same level of horror, fear or anger as we did after Manchester. I’m guilty of turning a blind eye and feeling distanced from bombings in countries half the world away, purely because they’re not happening in front of me. It’s awful that this is how I react but that’s a whole other issue and something I want to address properly in another post.

It’s when our home is threatened that it really brings to light that this is a global problem. As soon as extremism is brought to our doorstops, we are forced to sit up and pay attention to what is happening in the rest of the world. It’s much easier to ignore horrific acts against humanity when they’re on the other side of the world, but when it could affect our friends or family, that’s when we truly feel its impact.

In the face of terrorist attacks in the past, it has created huge divisions in our societies. Established prejudices of ethnicity and races become more prominent and the number of hate crimes rise dramatically in the wake of such events as 9/11 and so on. Yet it struck me that the response to Manchester looked for a way for us all to stand together.

The message is one of solidarity, unity and love. The medium? Music.

We have historically returned to music time and time again in times of trouble. When we’re in shock, scared and feeling isolated, music is a way to both express and escape our pain. From the festivals of the ’60’s and ’70’s, or the UK 2011 Christmas Number 1, Wherever You Are by the Military Wives choir, I think that when things start to feel uncertain in our world views, it shows we can either create divides or we can lean on one another. Music reminds us to be a community, which is what we need right now.

The attack last Monday threatened our safe space. Thousands gathered to share the music they love but instead were terrorised. It guess that for me, it feels like an attack on our community.

What’s most uplifting is that instead of intimidating us into submission, running from the things we love and the people who we can share that love, Manchester has stood up and refused to live in fear. One of the defining moments in the city’s response to terrorism has to be the crowd spontaneously singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ after Thursday’s one minute silence for those who were killed. If for some reason you haven’t seen the video yet, have a Kleenex or two handy – it’s an emotional one. The Courteeners covered the song during a gig on Saturday 27 May and were joined by their 50,000 fans in an incredible tribute, which exemplified how a city that has a history of music will continue to stand together; Liam Gallagher brought his hometown new material and old Oasis favourites on Tuesday; Ariana Grande is planning a star-studded benefit, One Love, for the victims this weekend at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, which has a capacity twice the size of the Manchester Arena. An attack that aimed to disperse the community has failed – it is not only still surviving but growing. Music is an act of defiance.

I’m not from Manchester but I know of people who were in the city, or even at the concert that night. It’s terrifying that this could happen somewhere so near to me and those I care about. But the Mancunians have proved over this past week that we should stand together, no matter who we are or where we come from. 

This isn’t the first time that extremists have tried to attack those whose values don’t align with theirs. It won’t be the last. But it seems that with each time, the victims only grow stronger.

Keep buzzing, Manchester.

Best wishes,

Siobhán

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