The Tragedy of Music These Days…

After doing a Google search for “music binds a community together,” I encountered this study, which talks about the potentially powerful effect that music can have on the social bonds within a group of humans. The authors of the study posit that this may be the reason, in fact, why humans evolved to love music.*

To anyone who has participated in any amount of active music making for any portion of their life, the most obvious response to this is: duh. I was talking to a friend of mine recently, who is a professional musician in Nashville, and in her words “musicians don’t have much of a social life, they socialize through gigs and rehearsals.” And what a powerful social life that is!

Having experienced the connections one can build through participation in music, I have to say that I rather deeply believe that this level of connection is every human’s birthright. There’s a reason why church services always include a moment when the congregation all sing together. There’s a reason why Nations have anthems, football teams have fight song, and so on. Music is the glue that can bind any group of people together.

Now that brings me to the title of this post, The Tragedy of Music These Days. I think if you make the mistake of reading YouTube comments, you’ll find that there seems to be a broad consensus that The Tragedy of Music These Days is that music from today sucks. This consensus is wrong.

Rather, I would argue that the great tragedy of music is that we’ve lost sight of it’s most important function–that of bringing community’s together. In my life as a music teacher, I encounter more adult individuals who are thrilled that I’m teaching their children because they consider themselves to be “non musical.” They’ve accepted for themselves a diminished existence because they have it in their mind that in order to play you have to possess some sort of magical quality that allows you to call yourself a musician.

I’ve written before about some of the problems of music education, but let me emphasize here that I think the biggest is this notion that music instruction is reserved for those elite individuals with “talent,” whatever that is. The rest of us listen to our iPods on headphones, longing to experience the type of connection that participation in the process of music making could provide.

This, in my opinion, is the real tragedy of music these days: that there are so many of us who are willing to deny ourselves the pleasure of musical connection and let others do that important work for us. Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a world where active music making was a part of their every day life, where the only way you could hear music was to make it yourself. In that world, it didn’t much matter whether you were in possession of talent. Everyone played because everyone had to.

Obviously, technology has advanced since then. And I have no desire to go back at all.** But I do think that we need to try, as a culture, to recapture the ethos of our grandparents’ music making. Music needs to be accessible to everyone, and treated as the communal endeavor it is.


*And sure, I agree that this may be part of it. I also like Daniel Levitin’s explanation, citing the extraordinary reproductive success of famous rock musicians despite modern birth control techniques, that music and dance are ways humans demonstrate reproductive fitness. It’s probably both of those things.

**I’m glad I don’t know anyone who’s had polio, for instance.


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