Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Musical Interlude, and a Gaelic Folk Song

From Vikas Shah, Thought Economics, March 2013

"... Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there," writes Daniel Levitin "....weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep and college students studying with music as a background...." He continues to note that, is and was [always] part of the fabric of everyday life. Only relatively recently in our own culture, five hundred years or so ago, did a distinction arise that cut society in two, forming separate classes of music performers and music listeners. Throughout most of the world and for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and everyone participated. Concert halls, dedicated to the performance of music, arose only in the last several centuries. Understanding why we like music and what draws us to it is therefore a window on the essence of human nature...." (This is Your Brain on Music, 2006)

"This may seem like undue hyperbole, but the fact is that music is one of the most primal and fundamental aspects of human culture with many researchers even arguing that music (at least in a primitive form) pre-dates the emergence of language itself... A fact (ironically) not lost on some of the greatest writers in history, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once observed, " is the universal language of mankind.”

"Given our understanding that most (if not all) of our physical and social faculties are adaptations for success in our environment, the origins of music remain an enigma. Prof Oliver Sacks (in his book Musicophilia) notes that even 'Darwin himself was evidently puzzled [about the origin of music in culture], writing in The Descent of Man: ' neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man… they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed....'" Sacks continues to explain that, 'We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one. We integrate all of these and 'construct' music in our minds using many different parts of the brain. And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and profound emotional reaction to music.' He then quotes Schopenhauer who said 'The inexpressible depth of music... easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all of the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain… Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves."

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