Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Music, the cortisone balm?

Posted 17 Aug 2015 / 0

The Chronicle of Higher EducationCan Music Save Your Life?

This article is kind of all over the place, but at its heart I think that it poses an interesting question: what role does music play for us in today’s world?

The idea that we use music as a kind of escape from the banality of everyday life is pretty compelling to me. The “rap” music that Edmundson alludes to has always appeared to me to be survival music, written by and for people who need an inspiring song not to feel too bad about the many difficulties of their lives. What is interesting about hip-hop is that it comes in many different forms: from activist to hedonist. Apparently the kind of escape that different people need in order to feel better about their lives varies from person-to-person: hence musical genre. What’s particularly interesting about hip-hop is that it tells stories about a cultural experience that resonates with those who don’t share that culture. For whatever reason, white suburbanites find solace in the survival stories of inner-city African-Americans, likely for very different reasons.

This article also hints at what’s probably going on with us spending so much time with our headphones on. Music used to be something that we all produced, together, and that use of music has to be its reason for being. Formalized and professionalized musical groups are a very recent cultural development, and recorded music — especially hours and hours of it packed into a personal listening device — is a completely new thing: far too new to have any role to play in our neurological response to music. The music of our ancestors was played by our ancestors, and was likely used to stir various emotions that pushed us to do things that helped us to survive. But now we harness music’s power to perform some very different tasks. The idea that one of those tasks might be coping with a world that is increasingly isolating is compelling. Sadly, we listen to music alone in order to feel less alone. This behavior might even be adaptive in the current environment that many humans inhabit… a sad statement on the nature of our current social experience.

A Minor Post, Articles, Cooperation, Emotion, Music

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