I’ve long been obsessed with the hidden power of song. I’m not talking about how music entertains us, or even its higher artistic potentialities, but something bigger and grander. I look to music as a change agent in human life, even as a transformative force in human history.
It perhaps sounds simplistic, but this is the most important core value in my life’s work, the central tenet underpinning in my vocation. Song is a source of enchantment and a catalyst for change. Any philosophy of music—or even a journalistic approach to the subject—that doesn’t respect this remarkable capacity misses much of the point of human music-making
As a music historian, I’ve learned that we hardly possess words to describe this potentiality of song—although each of us feels it in our heart and soul. At times, this power is so strange and beyond expectations, that it almost seems magical. I have tried to write the history of this musical magic, and celebrate its great practitioners, many of them almost completely unknown, even to musicologists.
One of these hidden masters is a man named Charles Kellogg. And in the course of many years, I haven’t met a single music scholar who recognizes his name. I didn’t learn about him myself until long after my student days had ended, and I was already embarked on a career as a music writer. But he’s become a hero of mine, although it’s taken me many years to piece together the basic details of his life story.