Magazine article National Forum

"Cavemen Used Music like Phones"

Magazine article National Forum

"Cavemen Used Music like Phones"

Article excerpt

When I learned that the theme for this issue was "Origins," my typical academic's response was to immediately consult the Historical Anthology of Music. Volume One of the anthology boasts of the inclusion of musical examples "from the beginning" through 1800. "The beginning" refers to examples of extant pieces that have survived, usually in fragments, through the millennia. The Anthology begins with a Chinese Entrance Hymn for the Emperor that dates from circa 1000 B.C. and quickly moves through ancient Japanese, Siamese, Hindu, Arabian, and Jewish fragments. The next example and by far the most complete is the famous First Delphic Hymn. This is one of twenty Greek pieces to have survived and dates from circa 138 B.C. From there the Anthology moves into early Gregorian chant, and the rest, as they say, is history ... at least music history.

Then I pulled out Plato and read some of his penetrating arguments about the nature and place of music in the educational scheme and in life in general. Both of the following excerpts are from The Collected Dialogues of Plato (ed. by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns):

So much of music as is adapted to the sound of the voice and to the sense of hearing is granted to us for the sake of harmony. And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of our souls, is not regarded by the intelligent votary of the Muses as given by them with a view to irrational pleasure, which is deemed to be the purpose of it in our day, but as meant to correct any discord which may have arisen in the courses of the soul, and to be our ally in bringing her into harmony and agreement with herself, and rhythm too was given by them for the same reason, on account of the irregular and graceless ways which prevail among mankind generally, and to help us against them ... (Timaeus).

... that education in music is most sovereign, because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace, if one is rightly trained, and otherwise the contrary? (Republic: III).

How scholars have pieced together "origins" of music is fascinating stuff for musicologists, serious musicians, and lovers of history. However, it suddenly seemed so arcane to me. Perhaps it is because I spend so much time as an educator instructing would-be teachers about elementary music. Or perhaps it is because, as a mother of a toddler, I live immersed in the musical strains of "I-love -you/you-love -me" and other such Barneyisms. Either way, felt a need to connect to a more rudimentary view of the origins of music. I wanted to hear simpler, even more fanciful explanations on how music came to be. And I know from my years as an elementary teacher that when you want originality, check with the kids.

So, I asked the music teacher of my niece's fifth-grade class at Northville Elementary School in New Milford, Connecticut, to pose the question "where did music come from? …

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