The Three Great Chords of Might

I have been making music as a writer, composer, producer, and performer since my teenage years, so I am well aware of the power of just three chords. Songwriter Harlan Howard once said “All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.” Just substitue “country” with “punk,” or a myriad of other popular music genres, and you get the point.

Colby and I visited Harvard, our alma mater, this weekend. I noticed and photographed the inscription on the music department building, which reads “to charm / to strengthen / and to teach / these are the 3 chords of might.” Although I have taken classes in the building before, I had only just noticed this inscription for the first time, perhaps because I was accustomed to entering and exiting from the opposite side of the building from the inscription. I later learned that this quote comes from a poem called “The Singers” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The quotation really struck me because I have been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of my life and work and how I synthesize and integrate the various streams of my interests and experiences as a musician, social innovator, and as an educator.

Longfellow offers a succinct and poetic framework that helps me sum up what I do:

To charm: I bring delight and inspiration to others through creativity.
To strengthen: I support the work of changemakers and social entrepreneurs, helping them articulate and communicate their ideas in a more effective and powerful way.
To teach: From my first post-college job on the JET Programme to teaching in the MFA Design for Social Innovation program at SVA next year, as well as my work at Purpose, whether I have been a “teacher” or a “consultant,” I find my greater calling to be that of fostering learning and critical inquiry, not just to “empower” others, a rather well-worn term, but to inspire in others a greater sense of the possible. Teaching also helps me to perpetually learn more.