A moment can ‘change’ the world

Published 12:49 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It is amazing that one experience can not only change the direction of a person’s life, but also help change the world.

Emmy-winning producer/engineer/filmmaker Mark Johnson had one of those life-changing experiences in a New York City subway station about 10 years ago. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Johnson told the story.

“I was in a subway station on my way to work,” Johnson said. “You know, every day in the subway, people are just running around like crazy to get wherever they have to go. But this particular day, I was in the subway and I heard these two monks playing music. And they were painted head to toe, all in white, wearing robes.

“And one of them was playing a nylon guitar and the other one was singing in a language that I didn’t understand and I imagine most people didn’t understand. You know, there were about 200 people just stopped. Didn’t get on the train and started watching this music. And I looked around and I saw people with tears in their eyes…

“And it occurred to me that here is a group of people that would normally run by each other. And here they are, collectively coming together. And it’s the music that brought them together.”

That got Johnson thinking about using music as a tool for peace. Then another experience, meeting Roger Ridley, a street musician in California, inspired Johnson to bring his idea to life. He recorded Ridley and then recorded musicians from around the world accompanying him playing and singing “Stand By Me.”

With that, Playing for Change — a multimedia project with more than 100 musicians participating — was born. When the completed version hit YouTube, it was a sensation viewed more than 30 million times.

A two-disc CD/DVD featuring “Stand By Me” and additional recordings, Playing For Change — Songs Around the World, hit the pop charts in its first week of release. Then Johnson created the Playing for Change Foundation.

“Over the course of this project, we decided it was not enough for our crew just to record and share this music with the world; we wanted to create a way to give back to the musicians and their communities that had shared so much with us,” he said. “And so in 2007 we created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation whose mission is to do just that. In early 2008, we established Timeless Media, a for-profit entity that funds and extends the work of Playing for Change.”

What grew from one man’s experience in a New York City subway is now a worldwide movement for peace.

“The only choice we have is to come together,” Johnson said. “And to inspire each other because that’s the way that we’ll create a better world for us now and for the kids tomorrow.

“And the other truth is, you know, a lot of people are living in a world of fear. But we don’t even know how long we’re going to be in this world. So there’s really no reason to fear anything. The most important thing is while we’re here, let’s make a difference together. That’s what Playing for Change is trying to represent.”

As I listened to my copy of the Playing for Change CD, I thought about how one experience resulted in a movement that’s connecting the world through music. Thank goodness Mark Johnson is some who pays attention and follows his hearts when a life-changing experience comes his way.

For more information about how to become a part of Playing for Change, visit www.playingforchange.com.