6
Music's social powers

Music has organizational properties. It may serve as a resource in daily life, and it may be understood to have social 'powers' in relation to human social being. The previous chapters have moved from music's connection to what are generally thought of as the innermost recesses of the self – emotion, memory, self-identity – through music's interrelationship with the body, to music's role as an active ingredient within the settings of interaction. Music is but one type of cultural material; volumes could also be written about the role of many other types of aesthetic materials – visual, even olfactory – in relation to human agency. And music's 'powers' vacillate; within some contexts and for some people, music is a neutral medium.

At other times, music's powers may be profound. In a footnote to his famous study of encephalitis lethargica survivors, Oliver Sacks speaks of music's liberating 'power' in relation to Parkinsonism sufferers:

This was shown beautifully, and discussed with great insight, by Edith T., a former music teacher. She said that she had become 'graceless' with the onset of Parkinsonism, that her movements had become 'wooden, mechanical – like a robot or doll', that she had lost her former 'naturalness' and 'musicalness' of movement, that – in a word – she had been 'unmusicked'. Fortunately, she added, the disease was 'accompanied' by its own cure. I raised an eyebrow: 'Music,' she said, 'as I am unmusicked, I must be remusicked.' Often she said, she would find herself 'frozen', utterly motionless, deprived of the power, the impulse, the thought, of any motion; she felt at such times 'like a still photo, a frozen frame' – a mere optical flat, without substance or life. In this state, this statelessness, this timeless irreality, she would remain, motionless-helpless, until music came: 'Songs, tunes I know from years ago, catchy tunes, rhythmic tunes, the sort I loved to dance to.' (1990:60n, emphasis in original)

Upon hearing or imagining music, Edith T. explained to Sacks, her 'inner music' – the capacity to move and to act – was returned. 'It was like', she said, 'suddenly remembering myself, my own living tune' (1990:60n).

Sacks refers to Kant's conception of music as 'the quickening art', a means for arousing a person's liveliness. For Edith T., as Sacks puts it, music aroused, 'her living-and-moving identity and will, which is otherwise

-151-

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Music in Everyday Life
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Figures viii
  • Preface and Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - Formulating Questions – the 'Music and Society' Nexus 1
  • 2 - Musical Affect in Practice 21
  • 3 - Music as a Technology of Self 46
  • 4 - Music and the Body 75
  • 5 - Music as a Device of Social Ordering 109
  • 6 - Music's Social Powers 151
  • Bibliography 164
  • Index 177
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