For Music in Common founder Todd Mack, a defining moment in life occured when his friend and band mate, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was murdered by militants in Pakistan in 2002. To honor the memory of his friend, Mack, who is a singer-songwriter and music producer, organized an informal backyard music jam. Says Mack, “As Danny traveled the world as a journalist, he’d take his fiddle and play at local jam sessions. It was his way of connecting with people in the places he visited and, then, connecting them with each other.” This backyard jam eventually grew into Music in Common (MIC), an international non-profit organization that uses the power of music to connect people and employs innovative programs that serve as a call to action in communities around the world. People in more than 250 communities have participated in MIC programs and connected with people of different religions, cultures and backgrounds.

1. What or who inspired you to start Music in Common and do the work you do?

Danny Pearl was a close friend of mine. He was a talented musician and we played in a band together in Atlanta, where he took his first job with the WSJ. His murder was the inspiration behind taking such a horrific act of violence and hate and turning it into something positive. In 2005, three years after his murder, I had a small party with friends and musicians in my backyard to honor his birthday. From there, a community was created, and after two years in my backyard, we took the show on the road. We called it FOD Fest (Friends of Danny Fest). I brought along a recording engineer and a videographer friend, and everyone volunteered their time for the adventure. As a career musician, I had a large network of musicians to tour with. People performed and others showed up, and word spread. On the first tour, over 100 musicians performed during 7 shows. Sometimes we invited musicians from the audience to join us onstage. At each performance, we talked about Danny – his life and what he stood for. The tour grew, and in 2009 it was a 31-days long with 41 concerts throughout the US and Taiwan. It reached the point that it felt like there was more to it than just the concerts and honoring Danny. I realized we had an opportunity to develop official programming that could intentionally address building communities to get to know people better: Jewish/Christian/Muslim and American/Middle Eastern communities. Danny was the impetus for getting started, but as we grew, we became directed toward WHY he was murdered. How can we address that programmatically? How can we do things that are more impactful and deeper than just bringing people together at concerts? What we were doing was very much reflective of who Danny was and what he believed in, but we needed to do more about combatting the hate. That’s when we turned our attention toward developing additional programming and fostering more connections through music. We organized the nonprofit Music in Common to better reflect who we were. Music In Common brings together diverse groups of people with creative collaboration, songwriting, music, multimedia, etc. as a way to discover common ground.To date, we have conducted programs in the Middle East (Israel, Palestine), all over the US, in Taiwan and in Hong Kong.

2. What is the most fulfilling aspect of the work you do?

Seeing the transformation in the people we work with. At a program we did a couple of years ago, a Bedouin Israeli, a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian all lived together. They were inseparable at the end of the program. Clearly, they came in not knowing each other and with a set of pre-judgments about each other, and just to see that completely disappear when given the opportunity to know one another was amazing.

3. What words of advice would you give to someone who is trying to find his or her purpose in the world?

To dig really deep inside and come up with something that’s true to who you are and that you have real passion for. That’s the key. Lots of peple try to change the world or make a difference, but that’s backwards. First they should think about what makes them tick, then take what they love to do and turn it into an agent for change.

4. What inspires you?

Possibility inspires me. Hope. Change.

5. Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share?

Everybody has an opportunity to contribute something in this world and in their life. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a responsibility. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be huge. If everyone does something positive, collectively it would be quite palpable. Take the time to recognize this and act upon it.

Bonus Questions

What is your purpose or mission in life? To eliminate hate.

What book are you reading? Weeping Under the Same Moon

What is your favorite motto? Music can change the world. There’s evidence to support this, just as Beethoven said.