Playing for Change: Using Music to Bring Peace in the World

“Playing for Change” is a multi-media music project created by sound engineer Mark Johnson and dancer/choreographer Whitney Kroenke. Its purpose is to inspire, connect, and bring peace in the world through music. Here’s how it works.

In 2005 Johnson was walking the streets of Santa Monica, California when he heard Roger Ridley, a street singer, singing “Stand By Me.” Johnson was so taken aback by the “soul and conviction” in Ridley’s voice, he asked him, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing in the streets?”

Ridley replied, “Man, I’m in the joy business. I come out here to be with the people.”

Johnson asked him if he could come back with some cameras and recording equipment and record Ridley. Ridley agreed. Then Johnson traveled to other cities and recorded other street musicians—singers, drummers, guitarists, violinists, tambourine players, washboard players, and so forth. Eventually his project took him all over the world, recording singers and musicians performing some of the same songs. Back in his studio, he blended the recordings of each song into one whole performance.

The effect is amazing. As you listen to the songs, you witness Johnson’s claim: “Music has the power to break down walls between cultures and to raise the level of human understanding.” Hearing a woman in New York City harmonizing with a man in Ghana is awe-inspiring. And seeing children in West Los Angeles singing and dancing alongside children in Uganda and France is simply beautiful.

Johnson and Whitney also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to building music and art schools for children all over the world. This foundation has built schools or established music programs in countries as diverse as South Africa, Nepal, Mali, Ghana, and Thailand.

I am offering you three of their songs here. The first one is “Stand by Me” (5:08 mins.) featuring Roger Ridley who has since passed away. The second song is “What a Wonderful World” (3:41 mins.) sung mainly by children from several different countries and a singer named Grandpa Elliot from New Orleans. And the third one is John Lennon’s “Imagine” (4:06 mins.) I’m sorry that the lyrics were not available on any of these recordings.

As you listen to one or more of these songs, let us recall some of Pope Francis’ major themes during his recent extraordinary visit to the United States: Let us stand by one another, especially those in need. Let us work to preserve our wonderful world for future generations. And let us imagine ways to make the dream of peace a reality through respectful dialogue with one another.

“Stand By Me”:


“What a Wonderful World”:






How did you feel as you listened to these songs?

Does music play a part in your personal daily life? in your spiritual life? in your prayer?

Can music really help to bring about world peace? Why or why not?



  1. E.K. McMahon on September 28, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Beautiful music played and sang by some beautiful people.

  2. Kathleen on September 28, 2015 at 4:21 am

    How beautiful! Music can really bring us all together. Pope Francis was surrounded by all kinds of music during his visit.

    I like Stand by Me.


  3. Lu G on September 28, 2015 at 4:29 am

    After speaking with you at the Bar-B-Que, the Pope’s visit and wonderful words, and this mornings Blog and Music, I believe I cried enough happy tears this week to last the rest of my life. “IMAGINE” That.
    Thank You Sister Melannie

  4. Peggy on September 28, 2015 at 7:45 am

    What a beautiful way to start the week. Thank you.

  5. Doris on September 28, 2015 at 8:13 am

    What an amazing project! Thank you, Sr. Melanie, for bringing “Playing for Change” to our attention. I think that “Imagine” is so appropriate in light of the events of this week. Pope Francis has indeed challenged us to imagine (and realize) a world where we all live as one.

  6. Mary on September 28, 2015 at 9:51 am

    What great music. Is there a CD that is available for purchase?

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 30, 2015 at 10:44 am

      Dear Mary,
      Check out the “Playing for Change” website and you’ll find CD’s and DVD’s for sale as well as other items. Amazon also carries their music. (I just bought one of their CD’s!) Sr. Melannie

  7. Mary Schneider on September 28, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Thank you Sr. Melannie ! All of these musicians and singers have found their talents and share them so generously with others. Thanks be to God!

  8. Rita on September 28, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Thank you for a calming, peaceful moment today, Sister Melannie. A wonderful gift ….

  9. Linda on September 28, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Sister Melannie,
    You are such a treasure. I love your blog and the songs are such a great addition. I enjoy passing them on. These 3 today are perfect after Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.

  10. Patricia Collins on September 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Listening to this music and seeing the tears to my eyes! We can do this, we can change through love and compassion towards one another. Each one of us, one by one, can make his a reality, starting in our own communities. I am emailing this to many friends and family. Thanking you for starting my day in such a positive, joy-filled tone!

  11. Michelle on September 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Wow, amazing what music and talent can do, I look forward to your email every Monday, enjoying every detail. Thank you Sister Melanie. I also have a few of your books. God Bless. Michelle

  12. michelle c. on September 28, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Beautiful, it gave me goose bumps. See what can be done when we all come together ! Thank you ,Sister Melanie. I really enjoyed this.

  13. Noelle on September 28, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I saw this on televisions (PBS) a while back. I enjoyed it then and now again. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Sister Janet on September 28, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks so much for the beautiful music! “What a Wonderful World” brought tears to my eyes. A sister I lived with for 6 years had this song playing at her funeral.

  15. Annie on September 28, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    What an amazing project! Thank you for sharing this! Who would not be moved by it? I really think you should share it with Pope Francis. I think he would really appreciate it.

  16. Beverly Palumbo, RSM on September 28, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks so much…wonderful memories of music from the past that continues to invite us to build a better world as did the pope so beautifully these days. God bless.

  17. mary on September 28, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Wow music is truly a universal language touched my soul! Thank you!

  18. Julie on September 28, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    I am doing a happy dance in my heart! I love this music and will share it with others. It touches my soul like Pope Francis did! Thank you…

  19. Kathy on September 28, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you for this today.

  20. Odelia on September 30, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you so much, Melanie. The pictures and songs brought me to tears. Each one had its own special flavor. God bless the person who knows how to put it all together.

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