The Cultural Context of Medieval Music

By Nancy Van Deusen | Go to book overview

7
Musica disciplina: Analogies
and Explanations

Why is medieval music worth studying? For one, the structural principles of music in the Middle Ages are the basis of Western music, a basis that has parallels in other world music cultures. Medieval music is situated within cultural priorities that were taught when one is very young. These deeply held cultural priorities can be found by identifying what cultures bring together and what they separate, particularly in terms of learning experiences.1 So, perhaps it is not so remarkable that educational disciplines that have been increasingly separated in the 20th and 21st centuries are in fact connected in the Middle Ages. Conversely, disciplines that were carefully and consciously connected for reasons that were at that time clear and plain, are separated today. Not only are the boundaries between the sacred and secular amorphous,2 but the boundaries between intellectual and nonintellectual are as well.3 Literacy, of course, is one decisive factor, but the ability on some level to read and write does not impinge upon either of the two separations, sacred and secular, intellectual and nonintellectual. Even—or especially—the separation between high and low culture is a recent separation.

Disciplines today have, increasingly, become more and more specialized, with ways of investigation, jargon, as well as declared priorities, that all rarely transcend modern disciplinary boundaries. One is faced with becoming increasingly incomprehensible to one’s colleagues in other fields, and this despite the prevailing trend of developing interdisciplinary studies.

Overspecialization was not an issue in the Middle Ages. There existed then a far more unified educational system, established centuries previously, with component parts logically related to an entire system that was perceived as both complete and directed. Medieval education had a goal. In this regard, questions that comes to mind might

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