Sunday, February 25, 2018

Music for all Mankind

    written by D.

 Very few things have held a significance throughout human history like that of music. Music is interwoven with virtually every aspect of human existence. It extends it’s reach through both the profound and the profane. Music pervades every culture and era of mankind. Though there are innumerable classifications and genres in the wide world of musical sound, two tend to stand out in great contrast: popular music and art music. Although popular music tends to dominate the more common conception of songs and songwriting, it is art music that should be enjoyed, explored and embraced for the betterment of all humanity.
    Art music is defined by Merriam-Webster as “music composed by the trained musician as contrasted with folk music and often with popular music.” This is an auspicious concept, as it grants art music a greater variety of form and style than once assumed. Art music is not bound, as many would conjecture, by the images of high-brow classical or jazz music; It is defined by minds that create it who imbue it with their inherent passion and skills.
    We can all tell a lot about people by the music they listen to. The characteristics that help identify most subcultures are heavily influenced by factors such as musical tastes. Nikola Bozilovic, a professor of philosophy at Serbia’s University of Nis, explains in his paper Youth Subcultures and Subversive Identities that the principle of identity is divided into collective and personal identities. He goes on to expound on how the triad of subculture, style and identity are interconnected and interdependent; They each express or manifest themselves through the other two parts of the triad. Music both influences and is influenced by a person’s personal and cultural style. Professor Bozilovic also mentioned, “ … cultural style represents the basic form through which different identities, most often personal ones, can be shaped. It is through style that individuality comes to surface as well as creativity, uniqueness and sensitivity that, taken together, affirm one single personality.”
    With musical preferences clearly having such a deep impact on identity, style and subcultures, it should be clear to the logical person that those persons who favor art music would reflect that in the aforementioned triad. The obvious implication is that those who are part of a more artistic musical community would naturally manifest this interest in a desire for musical education and instruction.  Humans are, after all, curious and often ambitious creatures who frequently wish to become a part of something that weighs so heavily on their personal style and identity. 
    The benefits of musical studies are vast and well-documented by countless respectable scientific and educational institutions. The U.S. Department of Education once stated that “Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them. It is also well known and widely recognized that the arts contribute significantly to children’s intellectual development.” Eric Jensen, a member of the Society for Neuroscience and a researcher for curriculum development in schools nationwide, wrote in his book Arts With the Brain in Mind that music enhances our cognitive, emotional, perceptual-motor, and stress-response systems. He cites several studies for this claim and ones that show correlations between music studies and higher IQ scores.
    In contrast, performing and listening to popular music shows no such benefits. In fact, in an article by Linda Kenix of the Bloomburg Academy, it is written that long-term exposure to pop culture media can have a significant role in shaping a person’s view of the world and their behavior within it. Performers of art music are shown, in a study by the Texas Commission of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, that participants in secondary school bands and orchestras show a current and lifetime low use of all forms of drugs. Meanwhile, promotion of alcohol and drug use in pop and hip-hop music are nearly rampant. A 2009 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics mentions that “Most recently, some rap music has been characterized by the presence of explicit sexual language in its lyrics as well as messages of violence, racism, homophobia, and hatred toward women. Drug, tobacco, and alcohol use also tend to be glorified in these songs. “ While similar allegations may be said about the more popular or common forms of heavy metal music, it is simply not true of most of the acts who are inspired by and/or trained in art music. Technical death metal and symphonic metal bands very often feature and are the creations of classically trained or classically-inspired musicians . Bands of this kind include Fleshgod Apocalypse, Beyond Creation, Therion, Nightwish, Chthonic, Adagio, Nevermore and a huge collection of others. They feature lyrics and themes involving subjects like mythology, history, philosophy, fantasy, literature, and spirituality. It is clear that art music has influenced them to write what could be considered more high-brow material. This, in turn will similarly influence their listeners and enthusiasts to develop an interest in such subjects and styles.    
    Norman M. Weinberg, (professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California) states, in his book Music On The Mind, “by failing to foster musicality, our society is wasting it’s potential.“ Though it is tempting and even easy to give in to the influence of the popular music that pervades our society, there are countless benefits to expanding our musical horizons and fostering a deeper sense of musicality. In a society that features countless professional music publications and free or affordable instructions, art music is no longer only a privilege of a higher socioeconomic status. This is an era of breaking stereotypes, opening minds and broadening perceptions of artistry that might otherwise be consigned to the spotlights of the world’s great concert halls. Humanity is no longer obliged to maintain a diet of the musical influences they are hand-fed by circumstance and environments. A wonderfully vast world of musical art is at their fingertips. The results of such musical explorations will only serve to elevate both the individual and the whole of mankind.

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