Music and dance are born into humans. One of the earliest and
most natural forms of expression in children are the primal sounds,
rhythms, and movements that form the building blocks of music.
Somewhere along the way most of us lose this natural tendency to
express our emotions through song and dance. The process either
becomes formalized or inhibited entirely.
Over the last millennium in Western civilization, a duality has
sprung up between the "performing arts" as a spectator event and the
arts as something we do.
For the vast majority, a large portion of serious music changed
from being a normal part of civilized life to being a fringe
And that is where we stand today. As we work our way into the new
millennium, the performing arts are fighting hard not to be
marginalized on the edges of people's consciousness.
In many other cultures, the rift between serious and popular art
forms is significantly less, or even nonexistent, especially
cultures in which there is a history of passing artistic traditions
down from generation to generation.
Music has been used as a form of communication over long
distances. Even in non-Western cultures and when study and
preparation are required to be an artistic performer, the product is
geared toward the common man and woman. In China, for example,
skilled actors train for years in opera, yet the performance itself
is considered entertainment for the masses.
So what happened in Western music to create such a great chasm
between the serious and popular arts forms?
Arguably the most important development in music over the past
1,000 years has been the standardization of proportional musical
notation, allowing complex musical works to be passed on in a visual
The earliest system began in the 7th century, but it wasn't until
the turn of the millennium that proportional notation, allowing for
specific pitch and duration, developed. This opened up the
possibility of creating music of greater intricacy and texture. It
opened the way for compositions using more than one voice at a time
(harmony and counterpoint) and spawned the development of new
instruments to play what the voice could not sing.
It also meant that music could travel the world via sheets of
paper, providing composers in Italy access to work being created in
When the millennium began, halfway through the Middle Ages, it
was a repressive time when the Roman Catholic Church claimed
absolute power as Europe's governing body.
The church was the employer of nearly all professional musicians
and composers, with the dictum that music's highest mission was to
glorify God. Compositions tended to be simple and followed strict
forms. Most were choral works.
Then came the Renaissance, which started around 1400 and ushered
in two centuries of cultural awakening. With the invention of the
printing press, music, art, and literature began to blossom with
When Martin Luther's "95 Theses" (1517) helped codify the unrest
in the Catholic Church, precipitating the Reformation and the rise
of Protestantism, music began to appear prominently outside the
strictures of religious occasions. The wealthy often employed their
own resident composers and orchestras. …