It would be easy to assume that nearly all of the music you will study in the coming weeks was written for the sole purpose of being listened to. However, we often loose track of the fact that in many parts of the world, and for much of the history of Western culture, music is or has been intimately tied to a function such as work, worship, or even warfare. Even the music that was intended as entertainment was sometimes listened to in a different context. Some of our favorite chamber music from the Classical era, for example, was originally used as social “background music.” It is important for you to keep this in mind as you begin exploring the larger musical world.
By and large, our culture views music as entertainment. Even when it is used in a functional way (in ceremony or even in worship) it is hard to ignore the entertainment element. This creates some questions when we listen to music that has, or had at its creation, a specific function:
- What do we miss when this music is divorced from its function?
- Is the piece still the same work, or has it been transformed into something subtly different?
- Should a performer try in some way to evoke the nature of the music’s original purpose?
- If we do not hold the beliefs (cultural, religious, or otherwise) that are tied to the piece, will we still be able to appreciate it fully?
The web is a great place to start looking in more detail at any of the topics you cover in class. For this Cultural Perspective, try doing a web search for the following terms and see what you can find:
- Music and Ritual
- Music and Social Function
- Music and Worship
- Ceremonial Music
- Noh Music
Task: Write what you think about the issue and what you have found out.