Music Is a Unique Expression of the Human Condition Essay

Music is a unique expression of the human condition Music is an extremely important part of human life and has been part of human life for thousands of years. Music can be linked with many different art forms such as art and language; these too are distinct expressions of humans. This particular expression has survived and outlived ancient languages and could possibly be older than any form of language we know. It also serves the same purpose as language, to convey meaning. Music is a way of bringing people together, and is used as a social ritual.

In human life music is part of culture and it is also important historically. Music also contributes to the economy, as it is a means of making money as well as part of human leisure. It can be argued that humans are the only beings on the planet that make music. However, animals also create forms of music in order to communicate. Animals such as birds have long been described as having songs, along with whales which use a sort of music to communicate with others of their kind that are miles away. Both humans and animals use music as a method of social activity and communication.

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Jaap Kunst once suggested that humans imitated the songs and calls of birds, perhaps this is how music began. Music is used as a form of communication in television and film, as it is used to convey emotions to enable the audience to feel emotions such as fear or passion. It could be considered that music is genetically part of human beings as we instinctively react to music. Humans can recognise that minor keys imply a sombre tone while major keys imply happiness. It has been suggested that natural sounds made by animals are part of a universal music that provides an intuitive musical concept to both animals and humans.

Only humans use music in a financially gaining way, most animals use calls and songs as a way to communicate or find a mate, whereas humans do not rely on music in this way. Musical materials include modes and scales; this is how much of music is structured. Different cultures have contrasting scales to the western Ionian scale. The Turkish Hijaz scale includes quarter tones, which sound foreign and discordant to other cultures’ ears. Sound therefore is organised into socially accepted patterns, music can sound completely different to someone who does not belong to that exact culture.

Music is a cultural tool that helps arrange individual societies. Music has also been described as humanly organised sound. John Blacking has stated that there is so much music in the world that is can be seen as a specific trait of man, similar to that of language and religion. Humanly organised sound is a code constructed from organic materials into cultural materials. Humans also make instruments to create music, which also divides music making from animals. Instruments can be split into categories, such as Chordophones, stringed instruments that are plucked. Aerophones are instruments that are blown into to create sound.

Membraphones are instruments with a membrane such as a drum, and Idiophones do not have a membrane like a rattle. Instruments are incredibly important historically as they are also used as artefacts. Some instruments found 57,000 years ago were found to be much more complicated than hunting tools, underling the importance of music even then. The San people, who were one of the first groups of humans to populate the earth, used a hunting bow which they also used for musical purposes. Instruments are a form of material culture and they are items of expressive culture.

They have cultural value as well as commercial value, as they can be sold for money. Instruments can also define you as a person, such as ranking in society. Like in a western symphony orchestra, the first violinist is valued more than a second violinist. Music is a form of human behaviour as we naturally react to music. Some people associate music with religion, and sometimes directly link music to it. It is believed by some that the overtone which can be heard after a note has sounded is God itself, showing that our souls go on after death perhaps.

Music is also a learned behaviour as people teach each other and pass down musical traditions through the generations. Some musical traditions can only survive this way, as they are not written traditions; however, they are no less important than written music. This learned behaviour is acquired at a young age. Mothers sing to their infants and this is also a way of teaching them how to talk, again underlining music’s important role in communication. Blacking also goes on to say that music is a product of human groups, which range from formal groups such as an orchestra to informal like Irish sessions performed in pubs.

This underlines how music separates people into social classes. Humans also react naturally to music through dance, and also use dance as a way to make music, like tribes in African countries. Some dances are very complicated and provide interesting rhythms to create or add to music. Conductors of orchestras also use their bodies to instruct, almost like a form of dance. Dance embodies music and is a way of making music visible. Dance and music are crucial in social situations as they bring people together.

Music has long been described as a ‘universal language’ as all human beings have some musical understanding, however this varies greatly. And just as each culture has a spoken language; its music also has a specific style that can only be understood through learning about that specific culture, like learning a language. Ethnic identity is shown through music and is related to the cultural language. Music is an art form which is culturally dependent, every culture on earth makes music and each has a definitive style. Blacking also states how deep structures reflect aspects of the human psyche.

He points out that music is a product of humans, and composers personalities can be seen in their music. In an average human lifetime each human experiences important events, in which music plays an important role. Formal concerts follow a special ritual, where the performers are applauded after they finish, and the audience is silent throughout the performance. This is different in other cultures where audiences are accustomed to talking during concerts. Rituals such as weddings, funerals and births use music again to evoke the mood of the event.

These events unify people, constructing a social structure and controls people’s behaviour. Music is also used to manipulate behaviour; sometimes a specific type of music is played to subliminally encourage consumers to buy more products. Music is also used as a way to communicate emotions, in a way speech cannot convey, therefore sometimes we need not understand the words of song to understand what mood it evokes. In some cultures instruments are believed to have spirits or Gods. A number of anthropomorphic instruments feature carvings of animals representing a certain animal or spirit.

Blacking states that music can be profoundly moving, however, he believes that no music has power in itself; he argues that musical circumstances and social context must be taken into account in each case. Blacking describes how there is no direct link with music and human emotional response to music; I however disagree with this statement. Although humans can appreciate music, understanding is needed to feel power from that specific type of music. This again can be explained through programme music, as it takes inspiration from something such as literature or art, and knowledge is needed to understand the true meaning.

I agree that music itself cannot have meaning, but takes meaning from cultural and ethnic backgrounds, however, I do believe that music can be powerful as it has profound effects on human emotion. Musical structure informs how society is structured. Sound structures society in formal orchestras, as a hierarchy exists in an orchestra just as there is in everyday life. Special importance is placed on soloists and above all singers in cross cultures. Accompanists are generally thought less of, however their musicianship could be greater than that of the soloist.

There is also an economic aspect to these structures as the first violinist is paid more than the second violinists as the first violinist has a greater responsibility. Musical industry is important, as music producers create products such as cd’s to sell to consumers, this again underlines the economic aspect of music. I believe that music is a unique expression of the human condition, as every human can react to music and every culture across the world makes music. Even the deaf are able to experience music through vibrations and enjoy music.

It is a meaningful part of human life, which structures western civilisation as well as other cultures such as more primitive tribes in Africa. Sound and music can be used anthropologically in order to explore past human life and its evolution. Music has evolved just as humans and animals have and it is still used today. Music is an essential part of human culture, and part of human society, this separates humans from animals, and shows that music is a distinguishing expression and characteristic of people. Bibliography Blacking John, 1973, How Musical is Man? Seattle and London, University of Washington Press.

Blacking John, 1995, Music, Culture and Experience, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Kunst Jaap, 1974, Ethnomusicology: a study of its nature, its problems, methods and representative personalities to which is added a bibliography, M. Nijhof, the University of Michigan. Mapes Jen, Do Animals Have an Innate Sense of Music? , 2001 <http://news. nationalgeographic. co. uk/news/2001/01/0105biomusic. html> ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Jaap Kunst, Ethnomusicology: a study of its nature, its problems, methods and representative personalities to which is added a bibliography, M.

Nijhof, the university of Michigan,1974, p. 47 [ 2 ]. John Blacking, How Musical is Man? University of Washington Press, 1973, p. 8 [ 3 ]. Jen Mapes, Do Animals Have an Innate Sense of Music? , 2001 [ 4 ]. John Blacking, How Musical is Man? University of Washington Press, 1973, p. 25 [ 5 ]. Ibid, p. 10 [ 6 ]. Ibid, p. 7 [ 7 ]. Jen Mapes, Do Animals Have an Innate Sense of Music? [ 8 ]. John Blacking, How Musical is Man? University of Washington Press, 1973, p. 10 [ 9 ]. Ibid, p. 33 [ 10 ]. John Blacking, Music, Culture and Experience, Linking Music to Life, University of Chicago Press,p. 176

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