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Music Appreciation College and AP High-School Essay

Updated on April 28, 2014

American society in particular has a tendency to overuse and abuse certain aspects in our everyday lives; from watching tv, to shopping, to indulging in our favorite foods. By overdoing these aspects in our lives, we inevitably abuse what we have; our minds turning to mush when we watch tv for hours, taking away from precious time that we never have enough of, to having a majority of our income frivolously wasted due to the mere attempt to keep up with the latest fashion and technology, to the country suffering an obesity epidemic and other weight-related diseases. American culture has shaped us to think and be this way; we continually want more and more, never satisfying our hunger- when we might not even be hungry in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle that was shaped due to our cultural values, and we even see this abuse in music.

Music is an important and essential part of every culture. Though music is enriching, it seems to flood our everyday lives; we are overindulging in music, making us suffocate unknowingly. Twentieth-century music is interesting to say the least; the century’s predecessors, musically speaking, could be, in a way, categorized, from Medieval to Baroque to Classical- each one of these periods, music consisted of certain qualities. Music in the twentieth-century, however, is so much more diverse making it hard to describe. Musically, we are the most educated. Also, we’ve heard the largest variety of music including the old forms- we can listen to Gregorian Chants despite originating about 1500 years ago, when there were no recordings. Though, being so musically “sophisticated” so to speak, there is plenty of musical garbage produced. Society has trained its people to accept this “music” that lacks quality and meaning. Sure, music is important to us- we definitely couldn’t go without it, but the music we hear today arguable lacks significance, at the very least, compared to the music produce in previous time periods. This lack in quality is due to the fact that artists today compete against each other, as they all work to try to be ‘different’ and to stand-out, when in reality, all these artists attempting to sound and be different end up just being the same/ even sounding like crap. Not only have we been accustomed to accept this music, we’ve been become comfortable with being bombarded with it constantly, everywhere we go. It’s the cultural ‘norm’. This noise infestation is due to the invention and advancement of recording music.

“Recorded music long ago relieved us of the hard labor or performing what we wanted to hear. It relieved us of the necessity of going to a concert hall. And now it has even relieved us of any need to listen…music is merely the inescapable background, the relentless mood-setter, the arbiter and signal of proper behavior."

-The Soundtracking of America

It’s much less work to just pop in a cd or open your itunes to listen to music- or even just walk into a store or restaurant and “listen” to music. Music is so easily accessible sometimes inescapable, contributing to its under-appreciation. Music has in turn, become completely different ever since it could be recorded. An image has been created by society- an idea of what we should get out of music.

“But it was in its way a marvelous example of what far too many people…seem to imagine we should do: get people to have the right behaviors by inducing the right feelings, rather than transmitting the right about ideas.”

We have been robbed of what we could potentially get out of music. The overplaying of music caused music to become just more background noise- and we treat it like background noise; we only hear the music, we don’t listen. We don’t know how to listen to music. Our ears have been desensitized and our minds have been altered by a culturally shaped idea of what music should do to us. We only imagine what music does to us, based on what society has taught us to think. Culture is powerful and manipulative because no longer do we think for ourselves- we are told to think a certain way, even to feel a certain way. Americans are so conformed to society and that ignorance leads us to think that we feel how we’re taught to feel, though we may not actually be feeling that way. And, in the end, it’s easier to be told how to feel about something, rather than to think for ourselves. It’s much more work to think for ourselves and come up with our own ideas and try to understand ourselves how we feel. As societies become more sophisticated and advanced, the minds that make up that society seem to become desensitized, like our ears. We depend on others’ ideas because Americans always try to find the easy way out and take short cuts- this has affected how we listen and perceive music (most of us actually don’t perceive at all since culture perceives it for us). We see how we’re taught to see, think how we’re taught to think and listen how we’re taught to listen… and because of this, we aren’t actually seeing, understanding or listening- not really. It’s a goal of human existence to be who society wants us to be.

“The interesting thing is not that millions of Americans can laugh at the bad lyrics they know, but that millions of Americans know the bad lyrics….not everybody knows literature or politics, but everybody can sing along with ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.”

Music, though we don’t actually listen to it, only hear it, has dumbly unified us. But I can’t help but wonder- would we be/feel more connected if we united not just by having a general knowledge of silly lyrics, but actually coming to our own understandings of what we hear and communicating our ideas? That would expand our knowledge, perception and a greater depth in our very beings. If a paradigm shift occurs in our society, where we can listen perceptively to music, I think we would be not only a sophisticated culture, but also made up of sophisticated individuals. That’s the beauty of music- it can help us to grow intellectually. But also, as it has now, music has the potential to dumb us down too (maybe not music necessarily; or perhaps music actually does do this to us). It really depends on the artists themselves- whether or not they have integrity in what they do and with most of today’s artists, it can be assumed that they lack integrity. They strive for goals, not on achieving something musically enriching, but goals purely based on greed and greed is driven on the acceptance from others. They want to be different- they want that attention, admiration, fame, money, success… that is how they obtain happiness, which means their happiness is dependent upon others. They say selflessness is a virtue, but I think this article in some aspects shows that selfishness is a virtue. If these artists weren’t so worried about what others thought of them; if they could return to a time where integrity in their music was a virtue- to create something truly beautiful, not the crap society molds them to produce, then maybe we can get our sense of listening back. This article gives altruism’s definition a new meaning. The artists lose a part of themselves by living try to please others (pleasing them by making music that the listeners were taught by society to like); they sacrifice who they are when trying to please others; an act of selflessness. Keeping this in mind, the artists produce “music”. (Not to say that all of today’s music is crap, but much of it, in my opinion, lacks any meaning and significance- even though the music itself can be seemingly beautiful).

This article also shows how the definition of “music” can change from person to person. I’m sure many music-appreciation advocates wouldn’t call today’s music “music”. Yes, it may fit that Webster definition of music, but can we just call anything with successive sounds that has melody, harmony or rhythm, music? We see the struggle in defining music with John Cages 4 minute and 33 second long piece of silence. The definition of music is not absolute; I myself can’t think of how I even define music- but I know what I wouldn’t call music. We don’t even treat today’s music like music, since we don’t actually listen. Music is what is meaningful to you and what you understand it as- not what society has corrupted you to think and stripped you of.

Source: The Soundtracking of America-


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