Does Music Educate?

Is certain music dangerous to our souls?

This is a trigger question for: is there certain music that is good for our souls?

Perhaps we should discourage certain music and encourage certain other music – that is of course if we care about our children, their character, their souls and their morality.

Many people believe that music is  – well – “just music”. It has no intrinsic moral value of its own. I has value but it is just an esthetic value – it pleases the senses, it enhances emotions, it creates a world of feeling – and then it ends – leaving our character untouched. Is that so?

Plato did not seem to think so. Music – he believed – effects our soul, it changes it, forms it, producing long lasting traits that will harm or benefit us for life.  It’s effects are so great – more than cognitive learning – because it goes directly to where it counts: our emotions. Toying with our emotions is no small thing. Particularly at a young age when our critical thinking skills are still not mature. But also with adults. When we are touched emotionally we are under a spell, under magic, we are led, directed – as puppets. Music bypasses reason. We have less critical thinking while we listen to music, and by the time we get to think about what the music has done to us, we have already been changed inside.

It is vital – says Plato in the Republic – that our children and future citizens be shaped correctly and that they are exposed to the correct forms in the arts. They should be exposed to those arts and artists that will mold them into better persons. We should therefore censer (!) what the children hear, what musicians they adore, what music is sold in shops in our city. All the arts should be censored this way.

In his book “Closing of the American Mind” (PP 68-81) Allan Bloom has a chapter dealing with the music contemporary students listen to. Here is a Wikipedia portrayal of what he says there:

In one chapter, in a style of analysis which resembles the work of the Frankfurt School, he examined the philosophical effects of popular music on the lives of students, placing pop music, or as it is generically branded by record companies “rock music”, in a historical context from Plato’s Republic to Nietzsche’s Dionysian longings. Treating it for the first time with genuine philosophical interest, he gave fresh attention to the industry, its target-marketing to children and teenagers, its top performers, its place in our late-capitalist bourgeois economy, and its pretensions to liberation and freedom. Some critics, including the popular musician Frank Zappa, argued that Bloom’s view of pop music was based on the same ideas that critics of pop “in 1950s held, ideas about the preservation of ‘traditional’ white American society.” Bloom, informed by Socrates, Aristotle, Rousseau and Nietzsche, explores music’s power over the human soul. He cites the soldier who throws himself into battle at the urging of the drum corps, the pious believer who prays under the spell of a religious hymn, the lover seduced by the romantic guitar, and points towards the tradition of philosophy that treated musical education as paramount. He names the pop-star Mick Jagger as a cardinal representative of the hypocrisy and erotic sterility of pop-rock music. Pop music employs sexual images and language to enthrall the young and to persuade them that their petty rebelliousness is authentic politics, when, in fact, they are being controlled by the money-managers whom successful performers like Jagger quietly serve. Bloom claims that Jagger is a hero to many university students who envy his fame and wealth but are really just bored by the lack of options before them.

Discusstion on Allan Blooms chapter about “Music” on this facebook page

So is music just a matter of taste or does it educate us for life? Does it change us?

I will try to illustrate the point. I know that not all will agree with my musical taste. Will the examples below be discussed as a matter of my taste alone or also as triggers to the question of what music should we encourage?

“At The Gates”

Be honest. Would you be relaxed if your young 12 year old daughter would ask you if she can PLEASE PLEASE go to the “At the Gates” concert? They are in town and they are singing their famous (infamous?) song titled: “Suicide Nation”.

Oh, you never heard of them? Here – check them out below. You may choose to stop your experiential listening whenever you want. But please notice the crowd! It’s a full house for this concert and it is all a young, energetic teen crowd. You neighbors children are there and your daughter wants to go to!

 

Assume this is your daughter’s favorite band. How is it effecting her character? Is this music seductive toward a certain wild style of life she might regret in the future? Can it get her into trouble? Is it associated with violence and drugs? Perhaps is brings with it freedom and fun – a good life? When you catch her adoring the singers and humming the lyrics:

Utopia – lost in chaos
As the sky turns black
Suicidal legacy
There is no turning back

Retribution answers cold
Moving in for the kill
Deep hideous festering
Bestial epidemic, repulsive need

Control, control

Suicide nation
Mass-appeal, death-addiction
Dead but dreaming
Restrained by phobia, brainwashed into submission
Control, control

Suicide -jaws locked around your spine

“The face of evil is always the face of total need..”
-W.S. Burroughs, “Deposition”
Testimony Concerning A Sickness

Retribution answers cold
Moving in for the kill
Deep hideous festering
Bestial epidemic, repulsive need

Control, control

Suicide – jaws locked around your spine

When you catch her humming the lyrics are you: a) afraid? b) happy c) indifferent. Would you wonder how it is influencing her? Perhaps she will try to kill herself after one of these concerts singing “suicide nation”? Again – notice in the clip – a full house. Many teenagers.

Pop Music and Rock N Roll and their associated lifestyles

Taste in music changes. When the fifties and the sixties came with its new pop and Rock n roll music bands many parents feared their influence. There were accusations that the new music heard on concerts and on public (!) TV and radio corrupts the youth. This has been said about the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Luis and rock n roll in general. Such music was associated with a wild, sensuous, carefree and unrestrained style of life. This lifestyle was later coined as “sex drugs and rock n roll”.

Is it true that Rock n roll can harm your children? Should we consume with care?

Elvis Presley received wide world attention in this 1956 TV appearance on the Milton Berle Show. He was outrageous! In the standards of the time he dressed sexy, moved sexy and talked sexy. It seemed “too” sexy. The lyrics of the “Hound Dog”, the body language while singing it – outrageous. And the youth loved him! 

 

Elvis great Rival was Jerry Lee Lewis. What a master of Piano. Elvis is a guitar singer then Lewis is a piano performer. With a unique style that one will recognize eyes closed. But is his music creating harmony within our souls? Or does he make our personalities unrestrained?

 

 

 To illustrate the point lets go to Lewis’s personal life and the example of lack of such restraint. He has married a 13 year old Myra Gale Brown (Lewis). What a scandal! It is what was his ruin. The public turned against him.

 

Jazz

So perhaps we should expose our children to more “decent” music? How about Jazz?

Jazz? Was also considered at it’s beginning as a Red District kind of Music. A music played at brothels.

The music of New Orleans had a profound effect on the creation of early jazz. Many early jazz performers played in venues throughout the city; the brothels and bars of the red-light district around Basin Street, called “Storyville“.

But it seemed to gain respect, high brow elite music. 

 Below is a piece by a Jazz genius Django Reinhardt. What a sound! What skill!

For me, listening to his music makes me feel happy and makes me think of hard earned skill. This is a clip that explains a bit about his band. Wait a while and somewhere in the middle of the clip you see him play the guitar. Watch him play. See anything interesting in the way he strums?

 

 

He has lost the ability to use two his left hand fingers. This did not stop him from becoming a jazz genius.

From Wikipedia:
At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with Florine “Bella” Mayer, his first wife.[6] They were very poor, and to supplement their income Bella made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Reinhardt apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbours were quick to pull him to safety, he received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralysed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs.[7] Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.

His brother Joseph Reinhardt, an accomplished guitarist himself, bought Django a new guitar. With rehabilitation and practice he relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his third and fourth fingers remained partially paralysed. He played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and used the two injured digits only for chord work.

He had to relearn his chords and fit them to his limitations. This was an example of his amazing ability. It is an example of Human spirit winning against cruel fate. and his music is spectacular. I seem to find his music as a testimony for the greatness of Man, the ability not to surrender to fate.

 There are a few other porformers with a related life story:

Robin Millar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Millar

 
 
 Tony Iommi (Back Shabbat) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epDSucMvP70

 

Religious music

Music effects us deeply. It is therefore understandable that all religions  – and many sects within any of the religions – attempt to reach into men and women’s hearts with music before they turn to explain their doctrines with words. Music is a tool to educate the believer by first of all touching his soul directly.

Many of the songs and melodies try to turn the listeners into better persons. Should we turn to such music to educate our young? Should we  influence our souls with the songs of the religious?

Below, you can see the way the Ultra-Orthodox follow as a mass their beloved leader Lubavitcher Rebbe in a Niggun named: Tzama lecha Nafshi (My soul yearns to you). Should we listen to such music as a way of becoming good? I have strong positive feelings toward this kind of music and to this particulare man singing it.

And here

Listen to the first part of the follwing YouTube and notice how These Chasidim know how to worship!

There is something spiritual in their music and also educational as it tries hard to make us into better people. Do you agree with this assessment? Listen to “Early in the Morning”:

If I had a Hammer:

When I listen to the blind Rev Gary Davis, I have to stop and think of life and how to live it. The following is my favorite: Death has no mercy in this town.

But I would argue that listening to this performer is more than a pleasing “taste” in music. I dare offer the claim that people should know about Rev. Gary Davis and internalize his melodies and his lyrics for their own education, for the education of your own long lasting effects of your soul. He, and others, make me a better person. He is worth more than esthetics, he is worth also for his moral and existential messages.

Political music

This can easily be demonstrated by looking at the human/civil rights movements around the globe. In South America there were at least two very influential singers that their songs – and their political influence  – has got them into serious trouble with the people in power. The first is Mercedes Sosa from Argentina who for a while had to flee into exile and Victor Jara. They both touched me deeply.

Mercedes Sosa

After the military junta of Jorge Videla came to power in 1976, the atmosphere in Argentina grew increasingly oppressive. At a concert in La Plata in 1979, Sosa was searched and arrested on stage, along with the attending crowd.[6] Their release came about through international intervention.[4] Banned in her own country, she moved to Paris and then to Madrid

Victor Jara was a chilean singer and has suffered a worse fate. He was killed by the Chilean regime of Pinochet

The Following is said about him in Wikipedia:

Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbiktor ˈliðjo ˈxaɾa marˈtines]) (September 28, 1932 – September 16, 1973[1]) was a Chilean teacher, theatre director, poet, singer-songwriter, political activist and member of the Communist Party of Chile. A distinguished theatre director, he devoted himself to the development of Chilean theatre, directing a broad array of works from locally produced Chilean plays, to the classics of the world stage, to the experimental work of Ann Jellicoe. Simultaneously he developed in the field of music and played a pivotal role among neo-folkloric artists who established the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean Song) movement which led to a revolution in the popular music of his country under the Salvador Allende government. Shortly after the Chilean coup of 11 September 1973, he was arrested, tortured and ultimately shot to death with 44 bullet shots by machine gun fire. His body was later thrown out into the street of a shanty town in Santiago.[2] The contrast between the themes of his songs, on love, peace and social justice and the brutal way in which he was murdered transformed Jara into a symbol of struggle for human rights and justice across Latin America.

One of the famous songs:

 

In North America it was Joan Baez and Pete Seeger that caught my attention as influential civil rights promoters. Take for instance the way Joan Baez sang about Sacco and Vanzetti who were political prisoners (look up their story and learn something about a dark period in United States):

 

 

And Pete Seeger.

Peter “Pete” Seeger (born May 3, 1919) is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-20th century American folk music revival.[1] A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly‘s “Goodnight, Irene“, which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950.[2] Members of The Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, he re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, and environmental causes.

: “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song”

Did you see how he make everyone sing? Feel how the sensation of equality, and worth seeps in all those around him? With this wonderful man? wonderful educator? I owe Seeger many hours of emotions I was proud to have experienced.

watch also “This Land is Our Land”:

 

 

One a different note (excuse the pun) I think a great way to illustrate that we all have a unique interpretation of this world, a voice of our own, is to listen to Covers. That is when a singer sings someone else song and transforms it into something that is him. It is now his. It teaches us that this can be done, and that we all have our selves.

Watch the following covers:

Little Help From My Friends:

Cocaine Blues (Three Versions):

Death Has No Mercy (two versions. Original is Gary Davis above):

 

 

What do you think? Should we censer music? Should we prevent our children from listening to certain music? Is there music you think we should encourage in schools? What is your opinion?   

 

 

 

3Comments

  1. ZukiFebruary 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    interesting post and great music! i love pete seger who is in my eyes inspiration for optimisem and humanisem.
    does music educate? it does have an effect on your emotions but i dont think it can effect your moral decisions.
    bad pepole like the nazis have been exposed to graet music. sophisticaded and soothing classical music that did not influnce them in to doing good , and on the other hand some headbangers heavy metal and even death metal fans that i know are sensetive loving souls.
    i am sure music can shape are mood it can teach us to be aware of beauty, ideas, can make us aware of are feelings, can make us learn about other pepole opinions and feelings, diffrent cultures , but, it can not make us choose worng over right.
    sadly your post illustarte that the kind of regimes that did try to decide what music should the pepole listen to where the junta in argentina who made mercedes sosa flee her homeland, or pinoch’e junta who broke the arms of victor jara and killed him for creating music they belived was harmfull for their 12 yrs old doughters….
    so,can we decide as educarots which music is worng for are childern? i think its an interesting topic, but a dangerous ride that can lead to dark places.

  2. EstherFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Maybe we can’t really decide which music is wrong for our children, but we sure know today which music is right.
    Research has shown that listening to some types of music helps in developing and increasing cognitive abilities.
    for instance Spatial-temporal reasoning, which is important for arts and mathematics. it improves memory and many more..
    We have a tendency to immediately defend our free will whenever an idea about regulation or education is brought up. but think about it for a second, you have an empirically proven studies that music helps (see “Music psychology” on wikipedia) in developing our Intelligence, so why not use it – it’s just another tool.

  3. ofriFebruary 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    שמתייחסים להשפעה של שירים, יש שני דברים שכדאי להתייחס אליהם: 1.מוזיקה 2. טקסט. בהיבט המוזיקלי – ידוע שסגנונות מוזיקה שונים משפיעים עלינו בצורה שונה, “אפקט מוצרט” הוא דוגמא למחקר בנושא ובנוסף הספר “מוזיקופיליה” של אוליבר סקאס גדוש בסיפורים על מוזיקה ומוח.
    והשאלה שנשארת – האם הטקסטים משפיעים?האם הנוער מתחנך להקשיב להם ולהבין מה משמעותם ומה התכנים להם הם מקשיבים? ואולי לפני זה ראוי לשאול האם אנחנו, המבוגרים, מבינים את כוונת המשורר לפני שאנחנו מחליטים האם שירים ראויים לילדנו? אפשר להניח שלא תמיד….ישנן דוגמאות רבות של טקסטים שפורשו לא נכון ועל פיהם הוחלט אם הם ראויים – לדוגמא: שירו של ברוס ספרינגטין
    born in the u.s.a
    הוא שיר ששימש קמפיינים רבים אך לקח זמן רב עד שמישהו עצר והקשיב למילות
    השיר … האם השיר היה מושמע ומצליח אם היו יורדים לסוף דעתו? לא בטוחה….
    http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201003110027
    אין ספק שלמוזיקה יש הרבה השפעות חשובות- היא מרפאה, מעבירה מסרים חשובים, מנחמת, מאפשרת פורקן רגישי ועוד ועוד…. הקסם בה הוא שבעיניי כל אחד היא נתפסת כמשהו אחר…
    באופן אישי אני חושבת שאם נלמד את ילדנו איך להקשיב למוסיקה, כיצד ראוי להתייחס לטקסטים ומהו חוש ביקורתי- נתנו להם את המתנה הגדולה ביותר בעזרתה הם יוכלו לבחור ולהחליט לבד מה לשמוע….

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