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Mark Johnson at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 2

Mark Johnson began the now iconic Playing for Change movement. Before his talk, the YouTube video that started it all jumps on to the screen and we hear the first notes of “Stand by Me,” as performed by artists all over the world. For those who have not yet seen the video, it’s a magical moment. Those who have seen the video sway along, simply delighted to see the familiar faces of these diverse musicians again.

Johnson takes the stage, saying that Playing for Change is all about the power of music and technology. He tells the story of how it all began. While working as a sound engineer in New York, he saw two monks playing music on the subway on his way to work. About 200 people had stopped, watching the performance, some crying. He realized that great music and great art were the product of moments in time like this one. He was inspired to take his studio to the people.

Then, he says, a little over four years ago he was walking in Santa Monica, California and heard the blind street musician Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” That was the beginning of the video now seen by millions. Johnson recounts his recordings on city streets, in subways, at Indian reservations and the inspiration he found in every person and every situation.

He’s now created the Playing for Change foundation to create and give money to music schools for children around the world. He’s mounted cameras in the schools and connected them to the Internet so that donors can log in and see the children they’re giving too. Johnson is also connecting the schools so they can see each other, learn from each other and maybe break stereotypes at a young age. A film has been made about the foundation that premiered at the Tribeca film festival and the video of “Stand by Me” has been viewed over 30 million times. He wants people everywhere to watch, share and learn about each other. He wants to create a global family of musicians and he wants us all to work together for the common goal of peace through music.

When Johnson steps down from the stage, another of his videos appears on the screen. This time, it’s a passionate rendition of Bob Marley’s “War” and “No More Trouble” by dozens of incredible musicians. As the video fades out, the room explodes into joyous applause and breaks into those whoops Chris Anderson promised when beginning TEDGlobal.