The social role of music

The Dance of the Muses on Helicon, by Bertel Thorvaldsen

As one of the foremost examples of how culture manifests itself inside a given society, music has a long-standing an ever-evolving role inside of any human group, be it modern or primitive. From ritualistic music that is deeply tied to religious practice to music that inspired entire cultural waves (with their own sets of norms and behaviours) or even political movements, it is one of the most fundamental art forms in human history.

One definition of music is that it is “human sound communication outside the scope of spoken language”. Some see music as something as an ethological process – a type of behavior that has evolved due to its contribution to the species’ survival, it having a ritualistic (meaning that it is formalized, rhythmically repeated, exaggerated, and elaborated) role not only in human activity, but also for animals. It inspires emotion by the fact that it appeals to sensory and cognitive dispositions, it can be associated or connotated, it intensifies certain states, and creates heightened affective moments. It serves social roles such as the display of resources, control and channeling of individual aggression, it facilitates courtship, establishes and maintains social identity through rites of passage, offers relief from anxiety and psychological pain, along with promoting group cooperation and prosperity. At the same time, music at time has been used in close conjecture with cultures related to various forms and methods of intoxication (such as the Dionysian Mysteries), pleading for a lack of inhibitions and social constraints.

However, in the modern world, music is seen in close relationship to personal identification and values, and acting as a creator of bonds. Liking a given music genre usually means associating with certain values promoted by that type of music, a fact which permits society to associate fans of said genres with their respective values. A shared interest in a type of music may (more easily) lead to the formation of interpersonal relationships, not only through the shared taste, but also through the fact that the music you like acts as an indicator towards the values that you may hold.

So, be it music that you listen to at home, in your headphones or just humming to yourself while doing the dishes, or music played in concert halls, at festivals or in clubs, it is something that not only has an effect upon you as an individual (in regards to your emotions, senses or beliefs), but also on social (in)groups and society as a whole. All the more reason to listen to it all the time.

Flavia Dima

Journalism 3rd Year



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