The Power Of Music Music is the expression of emotion through the medium of sound. From the very first moment a human heard a songbird and endeavored to recreate that beauty, or beat on a hollow log and found the rhythm compelling, music has become the most powerful freedom given by God. Music, in itself, is a characteristic common and unique to all cultures throughout the world. Every culture in history includes music as an important part of everyday life. Music, as a part of culture, will most often have more roles to play than a source of auditory pleasure. According to anthropologist, Raymond Firth, “They have work to do, to serve as funeral dirges, as accompaniments to dancing, or to serenade a lover.”(p171) However, the music’s form, style, texture, and system of harmony, is a s varied as the personalities found on any given New York City subway train.
From simple folk songs, to religious chants; from Carnegie Hall, to the Red Light District in New Orleans; the range and diversity of human music is almost incomprehensible. It has been said that the best way to learn about a people, about its culture, is to observe and listen to it’s art and music. Music is the most powerful of all the arts because it stimulates, manipulates and dissipates our moods through the emotions. Music, in our culture, functions in many ways; it can make work more enjoyable, create a fraternity among men, encourage a spirit of worship, and be an expression of emotion. Music can make hard work seem easier, or rather, make it tolerable.
In the days of slavery in the united states, the birth of the blues, singing while working in the fields was a good way to make the day go by. “Singing about your sadness unburdens your soul.”(King and Ritz,p110) This same tendency occurs today. Next time you drive past a house that is undergoing construction, or anywhere people are doing hard manual labor, stop and listen for music. Often there is a radio blasting some rhythmically driving “Rock and Roll” song. (Rock and Roll is a direct offspring of the blues) A friend of mine, who is a carpenter, explained to me this way; “You’re just out there workin’ and gettin’ all sweaty, and listnin’ to the music, and pretty soon you’re still workin’ but you don’t know it cause’ your mind is somewhere else.” Music can create a tight fraternity among groups of people. Music is often used in the military to organize and coordinate the movements of large groups of people.
Short rhythmic melodies, called cadences, are sung by soldiers as they are marching in order to keep a common time and a constant beat. Music has even been used as a form of secret communication in small groups. B.B. King, a legendary blues singer, recalls stories passed down from his great-grandmother, who was a slave. ” They [the slaves] were also delivering messages in musical code. If the master was coming, you might sing a hidden warning to the other field hands..that was important to the women because the master could have anything he wanted.” (King and Ritz,p110) A societies music is what holds it together as a group.
According to Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard socio-biologist; “Singing and dancing serve to draw groups together, direct the emotions of the people, and prepare them for joint action.” (p564) In many tribal cultures, ritualistic singing and dancing precedes many important events, such as; the hunt, war, marriage, birth, and death. Many of the social events in our culture are accompanied by music also, such as dances and graduation ceremonies. Even when shopping at your local grocery store you can hear the soothing sounds of music. To observe the uncanny socially adhesive property of music, attend a modern “rock” concert. The transformation of thousands of individual personalities into one unified mob, bouncing in unison to the pounding rhythms and loud chords, is almost instantaneous.
Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy describes this power of music wonderfully in an excerpt from “We Are the Music Makers.” “One man with a dream, at pleasure, so go forth and conquer a crown; and three with a new songs measure can trample a kingdom down.” Music throughout history has been used to encourage a spirit of worship and to communicate with God. In fact, until the renaissance, music that wasn’t written for or about God was strictly forbidden and punishable by death. All music was said to come directly from God to help us to worship, so composers never put their names on their songs. They never received credit for their work because to take credit for “Gods” music would be blasphemy. The first recognized composer in history was a nun named Hildegarde. This early “sacred” music was monophonic, it had one melody line and no accompaniment.
Soon, however, composers began to write non-sacred, or secular, music. With the rise of secular, non-sacred music, the use of harmonies and eventually a harmonic system became popular. In order to compete with the popularity of secular music, sacred music composers began to employ some of the styles and techniques used in the secular music. The styles became so similar, some Baroque composers such as J.S. Bach wrote both secular and sacred music. After the Baroque era , the popularity of secular music rose so much that sacred music was all but forgotten.
This trend of musical taste continued in this fashion until late in the nineteenth century when an entire branch of secular music was founded on a style of worship music. This style was created by slaves in the United States, it was derived from African music and Negro spirituals. The sound and feeling of this “Gospel” style caught on fast. Soon, a secular style of Gospel appeared; it was called the blues. Today, the reach of the blues into popular music is immense. B.B. King says, “..
the blues is universal. The rockers, and rappers and soul children all come out of the blues. The blues is the grandfather watching over his children.” (p202) The most powerful function of music, however, is its ability to express our emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Music has been so important to me, I would venture to say that without it, I would not be alive. As someone diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, or more commonly known as manic depression, I have been prone to very wide and potentially dangerous mood swings.
These moods and the emotions associated with them, although often times irrational, were nonetheless extremely powerful. Emotions that powerful had to be released and expressed to the outside world. I like many teenagers, found that to express myself with words was far too difficult and frustrating. I found a way to express myself, handle difficult situations, and manipulate my emotions. “Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent; melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed; and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous” (Menuhin, p9). Music is the most powerful force on earth.
It can make you fall in love, strike down an enemy, or weep for friends lost. Without music in everyday life, the world would be an extremely hostile and ugly place. Anthony Storr said it best in his book Music and the Mind; “music exalts life, enhances life, and gives it meaning..it is both personal and beyond the personal..it remains a fixed point of reference in an unpredictable world. Music is a source of reconciliation, exhilaration, and hope that never fails” (p 188). WORKS CITED Firth, Raymond. Elements of Social Organization.
London: Watts.1961. p171. King and Ritz. “Blues All Around Me”. Essence magazine. Nov.
96. Vol.27. Issue 7. p110-201. Menuhin, Yehudi.
Theme and Variations. New York. Stein & Day. 1972. p9 O’ Shaughnessy, Arthur William Edgar.
“We Are the Melody Makers” The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations; Oxford University Press. 1979. Storr, Anthony. Music and the Mind. New York. The Free Press.
1992. p188 Wilson, Edward O. Sociobiology. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press. 1975.
p564. 2-13-97 1328 words Fine Arts Humanities( Music Paper) THE POWER OF MUSIC Music Essays.