A look into what I think is the perfect medium for both art and knowledge
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Although there are historians who devote their lives to a pinpointed era or group of peoples, I do not think that anything can provide us with more accurate and concise information than an artifact from such a time or culture—like music.
When chatting with someone whose age or ethnicity differs from your own, you can gain understandings about those differing components of their life if they have grown up in that culture. Such cultural exposure can give you the vicarious experience of being in a different geological location, and encountering different economic, political, and sociological systems than those you are accustomed to. The same exposure can happen when listening to another culture’s or time period’s music. Music can transport us across the globe and through time to give us a look at where it came from and how it came to be.
While the internet gives us immediate access to an abundance of information, how much of that has been contributed by reliable sources? Most databases that hold true scholarly content are often safe-guarded and are not accessible by all. And, although some would label these resources as the most reliable information, do academics really know all? As for the remainder of the internet, anyone can contribute anything. How accurately can historical cultural phenomena and other components of societies be represented via this platform?
In my opinion, something similar can also be said about books. When reading history books, I am always weary of the fact that the people who wrote and published the book included content to curate a certain perspective. No matter how objective a person attempts to make their work, I think it is inevitable that they create something that includes bits of the author’s shaped biases. Although there are historians who devote their lives to a pinpointed era or group of peoples, I do not think that anything can provide us with more accurate and concise information than an artifact from such a time or culture—like music.
Now, while not all music from the past has survived, the music which has helps serve as a window into the historical period which it is from. These musical time capsules include the social dynamics and economics that occurred; the reason why the song was made, the lyrics that were intended to be projected, and the materials used, all hint to something beyond the sound of the tune.
Many call-and-response tunes—also called work songs or field hollers, emerged from slaves in the Southern United States. These songs often developed organically as a means of making the accompanying unpleasant and labourious jobs more enjoyable. The roots of hip-hop, jazz, and blues similarly pinpoint historical anguish. These styles came to be due in no small part to the repressed social groups which African American peoples were forced into. When listening to the first tunes that created each of these genres, it is hard not to hear the heart-wrenching passion. I think that this misery-induced emotion was vital in making these new sounds and genres distinct from the European-American styles that were also growing in the United States during that time. I do not think an online article or book could fully cover or explore the topic as well as these songs can.
When we look back to the Middle Ages in Europe, a great deal of all the surviving music is religiously didactic—that is, songs were composed to project religious texts. By adding instrumentation and harmonics to text, composers made their words more vivid. I assume the intention of this musicality was to increase a person’s faith, since religious and political systems were greatly intertwined for much of history (and still is in some places today). Plainchant, a medieval style of song, was sung slowly to maximize the clarity of the texts; additionally, many words were repeated over and over again, likely for the same reason. In listening to these sorts of melodies, it is evident that religion had a strong influence in guiding the arts. In overseeing the medieval sorts of taxes, often only religion was able to commission composers and musicians to create such melodies. While there may have been much more secular music than what has survived, we will likely never know. What can be told about these ages, however, is that religion ruled all.
The above thoughts are only a select few out of the tornado of ideas in my brain regarding this topic. The remainder of which, part 2, will be available in next week’s issue. Pull: Although there are historians who devote their lives to a pinpointed era or group of peoples, I do not think that anything can provide us with more accurate and concise information than an artifact from such a time or culture—like music.