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The Sociology of Music Essay

Music sociology is said to be a very young discipline recently conceived in the academic circles. As the name would suggest, it is examining music from a sociological dimension which is considered more intricate than simply relating it to culture. Probably one of the earliest who ventured into this young discipline was Kurt Blaukopf when he published his work, Musik im Wandel der Gessellschaft (Musical Life in a Changing Society). This work provides an overview of Blaukopf’s understanding of music and musical behaviors in various sociohistorical settings.

Moreover, it probably provides the most comprehensive discussion of the relationship between sociology and music and former’s contribution to the study of music as an interdisciplinary study rather than an individual field of study or trade. This discussion is not only led by an authority in the field but by an intellectual who has played a significant role in the establishment of the sociology of music as an integral part of the academic curriculum. Blaukopf was one of the first scholars to appreciate the value of the sociological dimensions of music beyond its traditional realm as an art form.

Blaukopf’s notion of music is “not limited on the sounding material and its organization, but rather on musical activity as a social activity (cited in Grenier 1995). ” Music is composed of smooth melody, rhythm, harmony, tempo and tones that creates different emotions and interacts with various feelings that form an imagination. Music is something that is created by everyone for everyone. Each individual can produce sounds then combine it into a linguistic form that everyone else can comprehend and appreciate.

Music throughout history has been used by society as an instrument to present their culture and traditions. It has helped provide common ideas and a vehicle of expression to everyone. There are different types of music, depending on what kind of categories fits one’s personality. Music can open doors to anyone and be introduced and exposed to another world that is so diverse that requires imagination to comprehend; and the beauty of imagination will give additional intense feelings. People use the language of music as another expression of their freedom of speech.

It makes one nation and unites the society; in some cases music can be employed as an instrument of liberty. Tia DeNora, in her work, “After Adorno:Rethinking Music Sociology,” stated (2003: 1): ‘Music has power, or so many people believe. Across culture and time it has been linked with persuasion, healing, corruption, and many other transformational matters. The idea behind these linkages is that music acts – on consciousness, the body, the emotions. Associated with this idea is another- the idea that music, because of what it can do, should be the subject to regulation and control.

” Furthermore, according to Ivo Supicic (1987: xii): ‘The scope of the task embraces the vast horizons of the entire history of music and delves onto its most diverse social aspects. The principal goal will be to illustrate the relationships between music and social life taken in its largest sense. ‘ This paper shall focus on how music and society are intertwined. This shall be done through a historical background that shows the relationship of the two entities and following which help serve as basis in understanding music sociology and the reasons why it is worth pursuing in the future.

Since people are the center of the sociological structure, they are the main reason why there is music in this world. The relationship of music to sociology is that it can influence various aspects of life and peoples perspective on certain things that concern them. The construct and concepts of music sociology are related to all particular and phase of references and activities every individual engages in. Historically, music started during prehistoric eras. The earliest and the biggest collection of musical instruments were found in China dating back 7000 and 6600 BC.

The Bible has also provided references to music as well (Katz and Dahlhaus 1993: 67-68). In the Old Testament, God revealed that ancient people were devoted to to music as a habit or as a profession. King David is a righteous king and he made use of music to express these God-given virtues in the Book of Psalms as well as being the first one who used the music for religious ritual. Before that time, ancient people would offer animals or any food from harvest for the king.

Through music, they tend to express many forms of emotion ranging from supplication and gratitude from receiving some grace from God. Needless to say that the early nation of Israel was a religious, God-fearing state during David’s reign and music was influenced by the norms as a vehicle to praise God. It was because of this that the Kingdom of Israel was able to flourish during David’s reign, as well as that of his son Solomon. In this particular case, it can be said that music served as a cohesive and perpetuating force for this state (Lukacs, Marcus and Tarr 1989: 97-100).

Among ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, music was not only religious in nature as performed in religious ceremonies, music was played whenever they would go off in battle as trumpeters would stir up troops girding for battle, musicians formed part of triumphal marches as generals and emperors parade in the cities to commemorate their military victories and the music played was appropriate expressing happiness and pride. During the Middle Ages, the Christian Church was the most influential institution of Europe during the time.

Pope Gregory XIII attempted to reform the music played in churches because he found some of them inconsistent to the teachings and the norms of the church and might have adverse effects on the believers. During the Reformation, Protestant leaders were trying to “reform” the music played and sung in their churches as well, electing to go for plain hymnal forms as opposed to the Catholic Church’s polyphonic forms and “high mass” music (DeNora and Adorno 2003: 1). Who could ever forget the “classical” works of Mozart, Haydn, Chopin and even Beethoven whose music was popular among the elites of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries?

Despite being “in fashion” then, the beauty and superb workmanship of their music is so exquisite and exceptional that it has survived the test of time and continues to be played in concert halls to this day. Music is not only for entertainment and for recreation, it can also be used to stir up nationalistic and even patriotic sentiments as means of helping unify the citizens of a state and promote loyalty, pride and commitment among them. This has led to the creation of national anthems for every independent state which are sung in the vernacular and usually in every official ceremony.

There have been times when the state even tried to “control” and manipulate music to serve its ends. The Fascist states of Germany and Italy in the 1930’s would encourage the playing of martial music on a regular basis. This was played partly to make people forget of the economic woes of the Great Depression as well as “encourage” and build up a strong virile society and these would be supplemented by regular parades and marches to help stir the people out of their doldrums and invite them to join (Lukacs, Marcus and Tarr 1989: 195).

Corollary to this, when Hitler and the Nazis came to power, one of the first things they did was to purge German society of Jewish influence along with the marginalization and discrimination of the Jews which would lead to eventual persecution. Among the measures were to ban the production, playing/singing and sale of any music composed or performed by Jews and it did not matter how prestigious the name was such as that of Felix Mendelssohn whose Jewish ancestry made him the target of Nazi crackdown. Anything made by the Jews was considered “poisonous” by the Nazis to German society and had to be completely eradicated.

Music was not spared and the Nazis also saw its potential to influence minds and it was also for this reason that Jewish-produced music had to go as well. While Mendelssohn was banned by the Nazis, the works of Richard Wagner was wholeheartedly welcome which alluded to Germany’s “real” past of the Germanic (barbarian) tribes who were aggressive and virile people, something the Nazis tried to instill in society and eliminate traits of love and compassion which were regarded as “weakness” or inferiority.

Communism also emulated the Fascists as they too tried to subordinate music to serve the purposes of the (totalitarian) state such as the Soviet Union and China during the regime of Mao Zedong. Western “pop” music was banned because they were regarded as “decadent” and smacked of capitalist influence that would corrupt society which would be unbecoming of a “worker’s state.

” The music they encouraged extolled virtues of the workers or peasants, encouraging people to be productive members of society as well as instill patriotism which was why the most music in communist regimes were very martial or “revolutionary” in nature. Anyone who did not adhere to this policy was soundly persecuted and “reeducated. ” Although not totalitarian, the norms of Muslim societies are heavily influenced by Islam, but this would greatly depend on the level of tolerance in certain societies.

If a Muslim state is very conservative such as Saudi Arabia, certain pop music would be banned from being played in public; in Taliban-era Afghanistan, music was totally banned since the Taliban regarded it as “un-Islamic” and that Muslims should rather preoccupy themselves in prayer whereas secular or liberal Muslim states like Turkey and Indonesia would be more permissive and tolerant of such music. The reason why western pop music is banned in these countries is because it is a protective measure taken by these highly conservative societies to preserve and protect the purity of their culture.

Although they may have welcomed modernization, some tend to equate modernization with westernization which would possibly mean an encroachment into their local culture and introducing western influences might threaten the existence of their own culture and its eventual eradication which in turn would mean the loss of their cultural and national identity. Popular music, as the name suggests, is any music that has appeal to the current generation, particularly the youth. Under this category, there are many genres that can be classified as popular.

In the 1950’s America, “rock and roll” music was the “pop music” of the youth of the time thanks to the likes of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis who introduced a “radical” type of music that departed from the more conservative “big band” era of the prewar years. It gave the youth of the time a kind of music they could identify with and they did not only listen and sing to the music, they even went as far as emulating the singers whom they have now idolized by imitating their manner of dress and even the way the talk as well as their habits.

The same would be true in the 1960’s when the Beatles became the new face of rock and roll after Elvis. Rock and roll would later evolve or mutate into different sub-genres such as “slow rock. ” “heavy metal” of the 1970’s and “punk rock” in the 1980’s (Greer, Rumbold and King 2000: 528). The 1990’s saw the rise of hip-hop music which is characterized by highly upbeat music and one of its subgenres is rap music which although already started in the late 80’s, became popular in the 90’s and the present times and has appeal to the youth.

In relation to this, such music would impart a certain trademark on the generation that popularized it, giving them a distinct identity that would set them apart from the others. Pop music is even localized and there are youths from their countries who develop their own brand of pop music with a local touch and because of this, new words appear to describe them such as Japan Pop (j-pop) and Korea (k-pop) which is essentially hip-hop music with a local twist.

Hip hop may not exactly be native to these countries but they adapted it and made it their own which is very typical of their cultural traits and enables them to keep pace with the changing world. As mentioned earlier, during the rock and roll years of the 1950’s, there were the gelled-up hair among the males, growing sideburns like Elvis and even emulating his gyrations whenever he would perform, a motion most conservatives abhor and considered immoral because of its sexual undertones which was the reason why they wanted Elvis’ music banned claiming rock and roll to be the “devil’s music.

” The 1960’s saw a shift from the Elvis-like looks to that of the Beatles as long hair styles or “mop heads” became fad. Elvis albums gave way to Beatles albums in record stores. The 1960’s was also a time of rebellion as the youths of the time rebelled against the establishment over the issue of civil rights and later the Vietnam War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If one would notice, as popular music evolved in the postwar years, there is one common denominator that remained constant that serves as an indicator of (American) society, the generation gap.

The younger generation of each decade or period wanted to create their own identity that differed from that of their parents, simply because they could not identify nor conform to the norms dictated by the early generation; nor could they associate with their music as well. Popular music gave them something to relate to and it was something they welcomed enthusiastically like a proverbial duck to water.

The only adverse effect it had was it would create a rift between parents and their children as both sides tend to tread a very thin line on what is permissible and tolerable and there would be times when parents and children do not see eye to eye in this issue. In conclusion, it can be said that music is part of human behavior and when it is viewed from the “big picture,” it often occurs within a cultural context. According to Alan Lomax, “music is a human vehicle for expressing what is most basic in inter-social relationships.

” (cited in Martin, 1997) It can be seen from the examples stated above how a relationship between music and society, if not culture exist and how there would be times this relationship is intertwined and in some cases, it would clash. One can tell the kind of music in society from the quality of life of its people and society’s overall characteristic. But the caveat here is that it is not absolute. There are also other factors to consider that can make certain exceptions to the rule.

Music in totalitarian societies reflect the dourness, triteness and lack of emotion or color of these states which makes one wonder why people flee these states for the “decadent” lifestyle of the democratic countries. On the distaff side, the kind of music in the United States through the years underscore how dynamic American society is and continues to be as one brand of music would be supplanted or replaced by another. This is reflected in Alexis de Tocqueville’s assessment of American society as one composed of “restless people, forever headed for new frontiers (Ledeen 2000:1).

” It is a society that does not want to be stagnant. This is made possible by the great degree of freedom every individual enjoys. Yet, despite the differences, both societies, totalitarian and democratic, makes use of music as a vehicle for cohesion in society as well as the means to perpetuate it. Looking back at history, it did not pay off for totalitarian states as the Soviet Union collapsed and as for China, it was fortunate to embrace some capitalist influence and it tolerated “decadent” pop music but amazingly, they were able to make it their own which enabled it to survive to this day.

Corollary to that, music also reflects cultural values and temperaments. For instance, the 1960’s in the United States was also a time of political and social upheaval and peace movements such as the civil rights and antiwar movements were increasing; demonstrations often occurred on a regular basis at the time. In a show of solidarity, music also lent itself to these movements and showed in such songs as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” whose timelessness and transcending message became the “unofficial” anthem of both the civil rights movement and later on the antiwar movement.

Incidentally and as a footnote, even “classical” music, such as that of Beethoven was considered “revolutionary” in the sense of defying the norms of society during his time and it can be said it is similar to what rock and roll was in the 1950’s and punk rock to the 1980’s (Martin 1997: 129). This was the temperament of American society at the time and music would serve as the indicator of that temperament (Greer, Rumbold and King 2000: 570), something also shared by Alan Lomax in his study of folk songs.

Essentially, folk songs were the types of songs that were popular during this movement and ran a parallel course to the rock and roll era which was its contemporary. Although rock and roll was the fad and far more popular, the folk songs of the peace movement symbolized the core elements, not exactly of mainstream culture, but an alternative culture which its adherents consider ideal (cited in Martin 1997). It can be further inferred here that music is something not an irrelevant component of culture but the opposite, it is something considered very potent which evokes commonality in values and feelings (Martin 1997: 129-130).

It is considered so powerful that in some cases it had to be regulated and controlled. This was why in totalitarian societies, the state heavily regulated the “consumption” of music. Conversely, if free societies like the United States release or air songs and sometimes, without any regard of the consequences and just allow it to make an impact. This has been the trend since the 1950’s when rock and roll came about and it showed when conservatives wanted radio stations not to air such “immoral” music.

The same can be said of the present when a different set of conservatives wanted to ban certain hip-hop music, particularly of the “gangsta” subgenre which are filled with expletives and contain suggestive messages of sex and violence, and they even glorify violence. Besides media, big businesses (nowadays) are also part of the scheme of things and in the name of profit, strongly encourage such music (Supicic 1987: 185-186). Going back to Blaukopf, he further stated a caveat that rely on philosophical speculation or theory, as though there would appear to be an absolute pattern that would be applicable to all.

Rather, “the sociology of music involves empirical research: researchers need to collect, gather, and analyze all social data relevant to musical practices and their transformation (Grenier, 1995). ” As stated earlier, making this kind of study is not absolute in the sense of generalizing or making sweeping statements; the “seen one, seen them all” attitude but instead, should treat it on a case-to-case basis as the validity of a theory to be formulated is limited by the context of the musical trend and at its existence at some point in history.

At this point, the sociology of music should be taken into consideration with continuous and careful thought. There are various fields where the sociology of music has yet to venture; it should identify the basic elements to be able to find its relevance, yet it would require further examination in the future. Generally, there are different musicological disciplines that are being studied for only various aspects of musical facts separating them from the entire subject. As stated before by Blaukopf, nothing is absolute or definite and should be examined on a case-to-case basis.

Thus, the history of music must search for matters that relate to socio-historical events and conditions. Furthermore, scholars also need to look into the interplay of “politics” in the production and consumption of music as well on why certain music is tolerated and while others are not. One thing is for certain, those who control or influence the production and consumption of music knows how powerful it is as it not only shapes minds but also touches hearts as well and they know this enough not to underestimate what music is capable of doing.

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