Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Power of Emotion: Music

     The first two sciences of the quadrivium (the second section of the seven liberal arts), Arithmetic and Geometry, are coldly logical.  They are based in facts and figures, and only stir the imagination when they point to something behind and beyond the numbers.  However, when these mathematic sciences combine with sound, they blend to create the third part of the quadrivium; Music, and music touches emotion more directly than any of the other liberal arts.
      Because music keys into emotion so directly, among the masses is it the most powerfully influential of the liberal arts.  Socrates had the following to say about the impact of music in education:  "Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful."  And Aristotle said, "Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul...when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion; and if over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form."
     The same philosophers who constructed the concept of the seven liberal arts considered that music was a tool, as much as rhetoric or geometry.  The art of music was an art of communication.  Music was to be used with caution and understanding to shape the State and Civilization.  The idea that music is primarily for entertainment is a relatively recent and Western idea.  Today's technologically-infused culture is one where music is never more than a heartbeat away.  Between iTunes, Pandora, Grooveshark, radios, iPods (the list goes on and on), it is now rare that we are not hearing music.  Because of our familiarity and over exposure to over-commercialized music, we tend to just let music and sound simply wash over us without pausing to reflect on the effect it may have on us.
     But music does have an effect on us; mentally, spiritually, and even physically.  If we ignore this truth, we do so at our peril.  May I suggest a simple experiment?  Go to your computer and open up the Pandora website.  Type in a composer like Chopin or Rachmaninoff.  Then listen for several hours while at the same time doing a task that requires a certain amount of concentration, like writing or drawing.  After several hours, change the Pandora station to Rage Against the Machine or Marilyn Manson, and continue working at the same task.  Pay attention to how your body and mind react.
     It would behoove us to handle music with more caution than we are accustomed to doing.  There is certainly a time and a place for most every kind of music, but we must remember that, as Aristotle said, music will rouse passions, and those passions will inevitably shape our character.

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