Why music matters


I’m just re-reading

  • Mark Slobin (ed.), Retuning culture: musical changes in central and eastern Europe (1996).

I’ve stressed the importance of soundscape to the study of both ritual and, more generally,  local cultures (Nettl, Small, Bigenho, and so on; see also category World music > general). Ethnomusicological literature explores endless variations on this theme, but the opening paragraph of Slobin’s introduction might serve as a mission statement:

Music is both deeply rooted and transient. It dissolves into space while simultaneously settling into individual and collective memory. Yesterday’s songs trigger today’s tears. Music harbors the habitual, but also acts as a herald of change. It helps to orchestrate personal, local, regional, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national identity. Stable yet constantly in flux, music offers both striking metaphors and tangible data for understanding societies at moments of transition.

He goes on to comment,

Each hegemonic thrust and subcultural parry are just episodes in a long fencing match on the battlefield of culture.

In the same volume, Carol Silverman also stresses the importance of music:

Music shapes politics and economics and social life as well as being shaped by them. Moreover, music is often part of a cultural milieu that displays specific social values, values that may represent the existing hegemony, counter it, or subvert it.


One thought on “Why music matters

  1. Pingback: Musical cultures of east Europe | Stephen Jones: a blog

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