Music – a community thing or a way of curating self?

About a year ago I was reading the essay by Geoff Dyer called “Is Jazz dead?” from his book ‘Working the room’. He mentioned many contemporary and recent jazz and fusion artists that I was fully aware of, but kept coming back to a longstanding musical project from Australia known as The Necks. After checking them out I spent the next month literally immersed in their albums. Their music is mesmeric, soulful and cool – it just ticks every box for me. Others may wonder when the vocals are going to come in – or think that jazz doesn’t get better than Kenny G! Others may be angered by the mere suggestion that the music of The Necks could ever be described as Jazz (… or even music!).

Now I don’t want to get into a long debate justifying the quality of their music; you might hate it! But I think we have to concede that music is a huge part of our lives, but we accept this without ever defining the criteria by which we compile our spotify playlist or, dare I say it, our CD collections. How much does confirmation bias, peer pressure a need to belong affect our listening habits? The way in which our social, fashion and even political views, interconnect with our cultural consumption is well known – so is this all bound by the need to define oneself coherently and belong to a distinct and pre-defined social sub-group?

In this blog Robin Hansen says ….  “My students … don’t talk about music very eagerly. In class I can get a conversation going about God with no problem. And students love talking about alcohol and its effects on the human mind and spirit, theirs in particular. Yet when I ask what role music plays in their lives or why they listen to what they do, there is silence.” He goes on to present 7 different functions that music has.

In this great article “Can music save your life?” Mark Edmundsen concludes by saying “Schopenhauer says that most reading is letting other people think your thoughts for you. I’d add that most music listening is about letting other people feel your feelings for you”

Read the extended version of this post here

Key questions

  • What is the key function(s) of music?
  • Is there a universal set of criteria for judging what is good music?
  • To what extent is new music driven by a need to subvert and challenge cultural and social norms?
  • How do individuals determine what music to buy? Do we use reason or emotion to make choices about music?
  • How do we determine musical genre?
  • Is harmony natural or cultural?
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