Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: November 16, 2012 at 9:53 PM [UTC]
Vote first, and then I'l tell you my thoughts on the matter:
I think if you'd asked me this question when I was a teenager, I probably would have said, "No way, food, clothing and shelter are all you need to live, don't be ridiculous."
As I've grown older and become more aware of the fragility of human existence, I've changed my mind. I truly believe that music -- and art -- are necessary nutrients for the human condition, without which, we lack the engagement, imagination and will to survive.
Music can help us do our work. When I was younger, I had some truly boring jobs that I took to make ends meet -- the kind where you punch a clock, work seemingly forever and come home late, only to get up early the next day to do it again. At one of those jobs, we had little radios at our desk, and though I couldn't listened to Brahms symphonies (it was tuned to a pop station), the music kept me sane.
Music can greatly help people doing physical labor: people sing while they work in fields or on construction sites. I actually sing to myself when I go running; the beat falls in with my breath and it keeps me going.
Music somehow opens pathways to learning in our brains, allowing us to accept and understand new ideas. Would a child learn his or her alphabet, without a song to go with it? Perhaps, but I just haven't happened to meet any children during my lifetime who did not learn this fundamental skill without a song to help.
Music also has the power to lift us, motivate us and console us. Is it a necessity? Please share your thoughts on the matter!
If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft . . .
and alone to thee two loaves are left,
sell one, and with the dole,
buy hyacinths, and on them feed thy soul.
Any particular flavor of music, probably not in the same way.
And, though I, too, am a bit surprised at the 36%, currently that's out of 42 votes. I'm not great at math, but it's "only" about 14-17 people. That's still a lot for this site.
In my early childhood people sang old songs entirely from memory and hum their own made-up stuff - we had no "music" like radio/record/music sheets/scores/instruments other than tunes & lyrics that were passed down & embedded in our heads & hearts. No one (except the one fairly well off Christian family who taught Sunday School in my village) played any radio/record/instrument, so yes, the rest of us can survive on communal voice-singing alone.
My late dad used to teach me to hum/recite/sing folk poems. It was a wonderful experience but I must add that food was just as important. In fact, we were so poor with such a large family (plus another widowed family we blindly and kindly adopted to feed) and dad holding a full time 6-day job with no holidays ever, our families lived officially below the government-set poverty line and further, we lived in a 3rd world country then, and yes, there were many times we have no money for food just due to there being too many mouths to feed. I never had a new toy or bought any new clothes in my childhood. My dad suffered much and yet not once I hear him complaining & he was an extremely private man who read & sang poems to his children at home.
People outside the home who know him at work for many years would surely see & think there was no music in this strong silent man/his life? There was (at least in his head alone and albeit only at his home with his own kids) with whom he shared & passed on his special "musical" heritage. On a rare occasion, maybe when he felt deeply sad, I think, he played a mouth harmonica and that was it.
As much as I love music, as much as it is the center of my life and I would not know what to do with myself if it didn't exist, I do think that we are being a little too romantic here.
A few years back, I had a moment with my grandfather, who grew up in post-war Germany, that I'll never forget in this regard. He would see my violin and exclaim "Oh, that is nice that you have a violin, I also used to have a violin when I was a boy!"
I then said "Oh, do you still have yours?", already preparing my complaint in my head as he obviously would not have it anymore, otherwise I would have seen it in all those years.
He would wave his hand dismissively and say "Ah, no. I traded it for some bread."
Put quite a few things into perspective for me.
To live? Yes.
On the other hand, "living without music" doesn't necessarily mean "living without having a radio playing throughout one's waking hours". In fact, a radio playing bad music can be downright injurious. I once worked in an environment where someone had a radio playing that insipid "soft rock" constantly. I wound up bringing in my own radio and a set of headphones, and treated them as if they were life-support equipment (which, in a way, they were). I'm not alone in thinking this; while shopping in a store that played such "elevator music" I saw the radio that provided it. Fastened to the radio was a handmade sign saying "Do not change the station", presumably put there by a boss whose employees felt the same way I do. Sorry if this is turning into a rant, but I feel that applicable workplace safety organizations (WCB, OSHA, etc.) should recognize such music as toxic and set exposure limits.
But to get back to the topic, I voted yes because I feel that without music - good music - we are spiritually malnourished. (And yes, I realize that the definition of "good" is highly subjective - although I'd be suspicious of anyone who finds elevator music sufficiently fulfilling.)
But at the same time, music is everywhere. You don't need a violin/piano/whatever for there to be music. If you can hear the birds sing, or the sound of a babbling brook, or the chirping of crickets you are hearing the essence of music.
Classical music as we understand it is only understandable because we have a construct by which to understand it. Sonata form does not exist in nature. But we understand it, and in so doing, it expresses beauty to us. Since we don't understand the 12-tone scale in the same way, the 12-tone scale is less accessible. But it's no less suitable a construct in which beauty can be conveyed.
So we can do away with all of the trappings of western (or eastern) music as we understand it, and still enjoy music.
So what is a world without music? It's not the world we understand right now, it's not planet earth.
Of course, for most of us music is mandatory in our lives in order to fully enjoy life, but to be true, we could still survive and be less happy without it. Just think about the literally millions of people around the world who couldn't care less about music and no doubt believe that not only they can survive without it but "live" as well. By the way, Napoleon Bonaparte used to say that music is the most tolerable of all noises.
Without music, life would be like a black & white film and with it, a film in technicolor.
As for me, I'm having a hard time imagining life without Hostess Twinkies.
My response is brought to you by:
Now if the question were, do we need music as we need other art forms, or academics or sports, I would have to say yes. We were created with a yearning to express ourselves and we all have different ways and capacities of expression. To elevate one form of expression over another is a purely personal bias but they are all important and differentiate us from animals.
Food, shelter,clothing,gravity,air and water are all essential ingredients to sustain life, but we need these other ingredients to enrich our lives, to give meaning to life and help us understand this crucible in which we find ourselves.
I recommend the entire piece, which is short and fascinating, and though written some 8 years ago, seems like a direct response to Laurie's question. I thought it might add to the diversity of the many thoughtful responses presented here. Just a brief excerpt in reference to Messiaen's 1941 Quartet for the End of Time, written while he was imprisoned in a concentration camp:
"Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-even from the concentration camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are."
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