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MUSIC: the cultural embrace that participates us in the pitch and tempo of our time


There is nothing mystical about music. Just because it sometimes has the ability to arouse strong emotions, there is no need to invoke an other-worldly spiritualism as an explanation. Many circumstances are capable of inducing a deeply emotional experience but that is no cause to call upon another reality to try and justify the situation. Many individuals experience enhanced levels of excitement when their sports team actually manages to win a game, but very few of those same individuals would consequently attribute mystical powers to their team members. Making love or growing a perfect row of potatoes can induce profoundly elevated levels of emotional arousal, but not many then indulge in worshipping another dimension in gratitude.

The pitch and rhythms of music, second only to the primitive evocative power of smell, trace their cultural and evolutionary origins from the oscillations and vibrations of nature. Human intonations and bird-calls, skin drums and heartbeats, bowstrings and hollow tubes, all exhibit the pitch and rhythm intrinsic to the natural world, and exemplify the basic origins of the musical art-form wherein such origins are ingeniously complexified. These contrived complexities of pitch and rhythm are so culturally original and unique that whether it be national song or ballad, fashionable dance or hymn, instrumental group or chant, they all bind us irrevocably to the social circumstances of our origins. Thus it is that the musical patterns of a culture pervade nurture and most readily become emotionally associated with significant aspects of one's upbringing. This is the means by which music acquires the capacity to evoke powerful emotions of recollection.

Although cross-cultural exposure to the varieties of musical traditions may be facilitated by the evolution of technology, never-the-less the capacity for an individual from one culture to appreciate the emotional significance of the music of another culture is limited. Effort and immersion may gradually construct a sympathetic respect and even enjoyment for the unfamiliar sounds and patterns, but the capacity of the music to evoke any primordial emotions of identity and origins in the foreigner would seem to be essentially unattainable.

Tempting though it may be, to suggest that a certain individual does or does not possess a 'musical talent', never-the-less it is a misleading simplification. One is a 'musician' or has 'musical ability' to the extent that the individual in question has those physical attributes which contribute to the performance or appreciation of what is considered to be musical activity. The actual configuration of musculature, morphology, physiology and neurological structure all contribute or not to the capacity to make or listen to music. There are no ephemeral disembodied 'talents' distributed as assets by certain deities who are supposed to head departments for the purpose. Genetics and nurture determine the possibilities... the spectrum of skills, capabilities, and sensibilities from the primordial up to the most complex... of being a musical practitioner. Those individuals that possess the intellectual, physiological and neurological equipment to be able to handle the ultimate sophistications of the medium are the ones we are inclined to label as 'talented'.

A piece of music is an entity. Its existence is contingent upon being integrated into the memory of an awareness. The supposition that it has a formal structure which is independent of human awareness is unhelpful. Music is one of the most public indications of the complexities of human awareness and creativity. Of all the various art-forms possible, music has the greatest potential for participation and group associations. The duration and period of the rhythms are most usually elementally immediate to the time-scales and tempos of everyday living and breathing, in a manner which other art forms are not equipped to emulate. Music is an inexhaustible creative process that utilizes the aural communication conventions of our nurture to facilitate social participation. It ranges from contemplating in intellectual and emotional abstraction the pitch-period structure-patterns of instrumental symphonic works and the ritual forms of religion and culture, thru to the mindless physical abandonment of erotically imbued dance rhythms. Music is a culturally transmitted language of sound and rhythm patterns which is associated by experience with particular rituals, events, emotions and concepts. What is music to our ears, may not be so to others.


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