by Harry Currie
Listening to music of any kind is a very subjective experience. We must factor in our total life experience, including our childhood, the influence of family, friends, mentors, teachers, our level of education, our work experience, our nationality, the degree of aesthetics we understand and appreciate, our socioeconomic status, and also, since we’re talking about music, the level of music education we’ve been exposed to, if any, plus the type and level of music we’ve actually participated in, again, if any. Even age is a factor. Some of these influences we accept, some we reject.
All of this and more, however, determines what our emotional reactions to various types of music will be, and will certainly affect our level of expectation of every musical experience. Sometimes those expectations are met, occasionally they are exceeded, but too often the experience falls short.
If you were to pick 100 people at random on the street and play various types of music to them you would find that similar levels of background and experience would elicit similar responses to the proffered musical samples. But even this is not absolute, for feelings and moods can alter the responses at any time. A.L. Sopchak (1955) stated that “the affective states experienced are due to learning and projection as well as to the music itself.”
Taking all this into consideration it comes down to gut level – personal preferences – and our whole lives determine what those preferences will be. We are all different, and our unique aesthetic standards display those differences. As the old saw goes, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and that is more than true about music, especially in this modern age.
Most aesthetic philosophers consider music to be the highest form of aesthetics, for as the late John Dewey explained, (music) “has the power of direct emotional expression.” This places music in a pre-eminent position, for the late American poet and critic Eli Siegel, founder of the philosophy of aesthetic realism, considered one of the fundamental causes of strife at all levels in the world to be one of contempt. “The only true combatant of contempt,” Siegel wrote, “is aesthetics.” And of the act of creating works of art in all fields “. . . can we not find here the just purpose of life itself?”
The highest standards of music are critical. A study done in England showed that adolescents who preferred heavy metal and rap had a higher incidence of below-average school grades, school behavior problems, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and arrests.
The transference of learning from music to virtually every other subject is well known, none more exemplified than with Albert Einstein, a superb violinist. When asked about the thought process leading to his Theory of Relativity, Einstein replied, “It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.”
John F. Kennedy said it well: “The life of the arts is close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.”
And Einstein must have been able to read the future when he philosophized “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
The 20th century saw the world in a continuous downward spiral which seems to have no end in sight. Perhaps if our politicians, CEOs and educators could come to a true understanding of “the just purpose of life” we might be able to halt the slide before we annihilate ourselves.
Listen to good music – whatever appeals to you.