“Lean on Me” has become the go-to song for today’s current conditions, as we’ve seen scores of health care workers and first responders serenaded by a grateful public. The Bill Withers classic crosses generations with its universal message of hope and lending moral and emotional support in times of need.
YOUnison, a New Jersey-based student run organization, is targeting April 30 as a “Worldwide Day of Gratitude,” inviting teachers and students, as well as the general public, to learn how to play the classic song. It’s a great idea that is musical, educational, humanitarian and just positively uplifting. They’ve even partnered with a music publisher to give you the tools to learn the song on an instrument.
Andrew Morrison, a New Jersey native and musician, founded YOUnison this past March with the goal of people having fun singing the song, learning music and paying tribute to the overworked workers on the front lines of the Covid-19 health pandemic.
“If every essential worker comes home from work on the 30th and sees people expressing their gratitude for them on social media, maybe it will make them smile. They are working so hard during such dark times. We want the world to thank them through music and remind them that we support and value them.”
Participants are encouraged to download the materials, then record and share their unique versions on YouTube and post on social media channels using the hashtags #LeanOnUs and #DayOfGratitude.
The Worldwide Day of Gratitude is meant to be a fun time for people of all levels of musical talent. “Off-key performances are encouraged! It is so much more important that people participate than it is to make a perfect recording. I would love to see unique interpretations in an odd meter or different genre. The goal of this project is to inspire people to show their gratitude through music/art. The song is accessible, and we believe anyone can participate at any level. That being said, I am excited to watch extremely talented musicians get creative with it!”
Ever the proper business-minded student entrepreneur, Morrison knew he needed to clear the sheet music rights for participants to learn how to play the song. “I knew that in order for this to even be possible we needed to have the proper permission to use the song in this way. I had a contact at Hal Leonard and they helped me with the rights and also offered to host the music and share engagement ideas with their 1 million plus users.”
In a 2006 interview with American Songwriter, Withers discussed the song’s underlying theme and true meaning of love. “Romantic love you only wanna touch people because they’re pretty and they appeal to you physically. The more substantial kind of love is when you want to touch people and care for them when they’re at their worst. That kind that will make you go over and wipe mucus and saliva off somebody’s face after they become brain-dead.”
YOUnison founder Morrison and the students on the non-profit looked into using other anthemic classic songs such as “We Are The World” and “Come Together,” but Withers passed away within the hour the team was making its decision. “After we heard the news, we knew we had to use it.”
The Worldwide Day of Gratitude has attracted the attention and collaboration from the leading organizations in music and education, including Arts Ed NJ, Australian Society of Music Education, Berklee Student Government Association, CMA Foundation, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Conn-Selmer, D’Addario Foundation, Drum Corps International, Grammy Museum, Grammy Music Education Coalition, Hal Leonard Corporation, International Federation of Musicians, International Society for Music Education, John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, Kappa Kappa Psi, Little Kids Rock, Music Education Council (United Kingdom), Music First, Music for All, Music Service Learning, Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, NAMM Foundation, National Association for Music Education, Noteflight, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Save The Music Foundation, School Culture and Climate Initiative, SEL4NJ, Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, Spanish Society for Music Education, SpreadMusicNow, System Blue, Teach Rock, The Lewis Prize, USBands, Vandoren, WGI, Yamaha and YOUnison.
To download sheet music and sample lessons, and to learn more about YOUnison, please visit www.younison.org/leanonus