Why Music Matters: A Letter from KEXP’s Executive Director, Tom Mara

Issaquah’s School of Rock // photo by Chelsea Mae Hassman

Music gives us hope. It helps us get through. Music brings people together and inspires change.

All of these notions came together a few weeks ago when Mary and I attended the 2017 SMooCH fundraiser. I wish you all could have been with us at The Showbox that night. The lineup featured KEXP-favorites from across the stylistic spectrum: PhantogramBuilt to SpillTacocat, and Dirty Bomb. Once again, in partnership with the Nordstrom family and Sub Pop, we saw our music community come together to raise more than $3.5 million dollars this year to fund uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

With that cause in mind, it seems especially appropriate that Issaquah’s School of Rock kicked off the evening. During the course of their set, I witnessed roughly a dozen young folks come together to express themselves and demonstrate their mastery of music performance. Yes, School of Rock captured the room from the first power chord, but their performance was powerful on other levels as well.

More than just their undeniable charisma and polished stage show, the kids’ performance was a reminder of music’s ability to transform how we feel about ourselves. As David Byrne and Kate Tempest told us when they visited our studios, young people can use music to create an identity and find a place for themselves. This is especially important during tumultuous times. Some of these young players might be the headliners of 2020 or 2025 and—thanks to your support — KEXP will be there to play them.

It’s a role we take seriously. Nurturing and championing artists is what we aim to achieve every day. A philanthropic event like SMooCH reaffirms music’s profound ability to help us look for the best in ourselves and each other.

Looking back on 2017, I thought this would be a good opportunity to hear from a few of the brilliant and inspiring artists whose voices are so essential to this work. Throughout the course of the year, we asked artists who performed in the KEXP studios to share why music matters to them. Their articulate, insightful answers speak to music’s life-sustaining and soul-enriching properties. Here are just a few of the responses:

“In terms of the inspiration that you get from artists you listen to, artists you admire, you begin to feel part of a community that you can’t access, especially as a kid.”
-Kate Tempest (KEXP, March 28th, 2017)

“It got me through my adolescence. At that age, you find music and you go, Oh My God! There are other people like me! I’m not alone.”
-David Byrne (KEXP, April 11th, 2017)

“Music is redemption. I don’t have a fixed faith. I don’t know what I believe in, or if I believe in anything, but I feel music as a compass, as a lodestone, as a magnet.” -Robyn Hitchcock

“Growing up in the church, I saw early on very tangible, practical, utilitarian things that music would get done. Music would move people, it would heal people. Music is a very powerful tool.” -Jamila Woods

“Music has been tied to political change whether it was wailing in the fields to let each other know of revolt and escape or gospel that sang of the hopes of liberation.”
-Killer Mike (Run the Jewels)

“If it wasn’t for music I might not be here. It can definitely save people’s lives too. It saved mine.” -Greg Gonzalez (Cigarettes After Sex)

“Music is everything. Whether it’s expressing joy or despair, it brings people together better than any art form.” -Eva Hendricks (Charly Bliss)

“Musicians can connect us with our humanity. Right now, when there are so many boundaries and borders being drawn between us, music opens all of that up.” -Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff)

I would love to hear from you about your relationship to music, the role it plays in your life. Feel free to reach out to me at: tom@kexp.org

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