Morality of Music: Because Music Primarily Communicates Emotions, Its Morality May Be Judged According to Whether the Feelings Conveyed Are Positive and Noble or Negative and Base. (Cover Story: Music)

By Bonta, Steve | The New American, April 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Morality of Music: Because Music Primarily Communicates Emotions, Its Morality May Be Judged According to Whether the Feelings Conveyed Are Positive and Noble or Negative and Base. (Cover Story: Music)


Bonta, Steve, The New American


It's often said that music is the universal language, a simple truism with many implications. Spoken languages use sets of agreed-upon symbols to express emotions and to reason abstractly. Communication through symbols, the quintessential human trait, is an absolute prerequisite for all other human action. But language isn't just a tool to communicate morally neutral facts; language is both manifestly moral and suffused with the power to sway, persuade, uplift, degrade and deceive. To claim otherwise is to ignore a vast range of sociolinguistic activities, from debates, political propaganda, and "cuss words" to poetry and sacred writ.

Music, through its patterns, rhythms, melodies, and tempo, not to mention its lyrics, is at once less capable of logical precision, and more capable of conveying emotional nuance, than spoken language. But like spoken language, all music communicates something.

All languages, including music, derive their power from two universal human traits, traits which are unavoidable consequences of our constitution as social beings. First is the ability to form habits through repetition, without which we could not come to automatically associate words with meanings, nor learn complicated physical activities like speaking or playing a musical instrument. Second is our tendency to sympathize, to reach out to others and to form relationships with them. Because of these two characteristics, our surroundings always influence us. We must consciously ignore people trying to speak with us, and our head turns automatically when our name is called. We cannot entirely stifle the desire to sing along or to tap our foot with music, nor suppress the emotions that music can elicit. For these reasons, music and language powerfully influence us, whether we like it or not.

Both music and spoken language rely on the organization of sound to communicate. In the case of spoken languages, the arrangements of sounds chosen by each community of speakers to denote things and ideas might seem completely random. Yet spoken languages are far from random. Because languages arose in the first place to communicate, they must rely on certain universal principles to make their message intelligible. For example, all languages have both nouns and verbs, because rational thought is predicational in nature -- that is, it proceeds by qualifying one idea with another. Reason cannot simply meditate upon things in isolation, e.g., "the man," but must conclude the thought in some way, like "the man is tall" or "the man works." Interestingly, though, philosophy, and especially the science of logic, came about partly through the observation of language. Philosophers, observing that grammatical predicates are universal, concluded that they must embody some higher, universal principle of thought.

In the same way, if we observe universal features of the language of music, we may conclude that they represent underlying principles, even if our understanding of music's communicative powers is incomplete.

One immediately evident feature of music is the unique power of percussion on the senses. More than any other instrument, drums entrance, energize, and sensualize. Heavy percussion, often with no other musical accompaniment, is used worldwide, among cultures that have no contact with one another, to induce trances and states of euphoria and even possession. This writer has personally observed this phenomenon many times in India. While the exact reason that drums have this effect isn't clear (though there are plenty of interesting theories), without question percussion-generated sounds appeal to some universal facet of human psychology.

Obviously, all percussive music is not evil; but it is obvious that, the heavier the percussion, the greater the effect. Interestingly, all of the works generally considered to be the "highest" forms of music-- the compositions of Bach and Handel, and other great oratorios like Mendelssohn's Elijah, make little if any use of percussion instruments. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Morality of Music: Because Music Primarily Communicates Emotions, Its Morality May Be Judged According to Whether the Feelings Conveyed Are Positive and Noble or Negative and Base. (Cover Story: Music)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.