By the time you have heard and really digested the content of the million decisions made in each symphony...notes chosen, patterns reinforced or broken, voices exchanging roles phrase by phrase...and then all of the other symphonies, sonatas, piano bits...in the end would you not know a version of Beethoven, the musical mind, as well as you know your brother? And even if it isn't Ludwig, specifically: haven't you had the feeling that some musician--Dylan, Lennon, Jimi, Miles Davis--was revealed to you in complex and intimate ways (Hyde 98)?Music is not, however, useful for communicating complex ideas, like how to drive a car. Roger Hyde writes that music "is not a substitute for verbal quantifications" (Hyde 99). Music lies in the domain of abstract thought. When one wishes to communicate concrete ideas, one must utilize verbal communication instead of, or in concert with, musical communication.
African songs combine the emotional power of music with the informational power of words. These songs help some Africans find their place in their community and their world.
In Africa and America, black music was not an artistic creation for its own sake; it was directly related to daily life, work, and play. Song was an expression of the community's view of the world and its existence in it. Through music, Africans recorded their history, initiated the young into adulthood, and expressed their religious beliefs. When Africans were enslaved in America, they brought with them their culture as defined by their music (Cone 30).
Song is not the only musical form used in Africa to shape thoughts and feelings. African "pure" music, or music without lyrics, also helps Africans to understand their culture and their community. The idea that pure music can serve a specific social function is somewhat controversial. In Africa, though, pure music aids in the transfer of social values in a community. "The development of musical awareness in Africa constitutes a process of education: music's explicit purpose, in the various ways it might be defined by Africans, is, essentially, socialization. An individual learns the potentials and limitations of participation in a communal context dramatically arranged for the engagement, display, and critical examination of fundamental cultural values." Through musical communication, African values are reinforced within the community. "At a musical event...the values of African traditional wisdom are integrated into a style of communication which is both musical and social" (Chernoff 154).
In India also, pure music and other abstract arts are used to teach and communicate.
We must realize that through the ages, most Indians were illiterate, that their sacred texts were not in written words, for the most part. They were in sculpture, painting, dance...The truths came through not so much the mind, with its cerebrations, but through the eye, through the ear, and kinesthetically, through the dance form. India never had the notion, until our century, of art for art's sake. Art was a spiritual technology (Moyers).The notion of music as a tool or technology with a clearly defined purpose is very prevalent in the East. In the West that view is held by some, but others believe that music is entertainment or art and nothing more. Those who take the latter view tend to believe that music is the product of a individual, while those who take the the former usually believe that music is the product of a group of people, or of the gods, acting through people.
In many religious contexts, music is less an expressive 'art' than a technology applied to produce practical results, from the storage and retrieval of information contained in religious narratives and teachings memorized in song to the attraction of animals in hunting, increase of harvests, curing of diseases, communication with the divine, supplication, and control of the various levels of psychocosmic experience. While aesthetic beauty may or may not be integral to such technologies, individual self-expression plays little part in them and may be detrimental to their intended results (Ellingson 164).In some belief systems, self-expression has little or no place in the creation of music. In others, the concept of self (and, by extension, self-expression) doesn't exist to begin with. In one set of Buddhist writings, the existence of music is presented as proof that the concept of "self" is a false one. "One group of Buddhist texts takes music as the archetypal embodiment of impermanence and conditioned causality, dependent on external sources and conditions, in order to show that there can be no such thing as an individual self" (Ellingson 164).
In the West, it is often believed that a musician can create music "in a vacuum," independent of outside factors. Ellingson writes that " modern Western scholars tend to view music, at least in its ideally purest forms, as fundamentally independent of external causes and conditions; they draw a sharp line between 'extramusical' elements such as symbolism, function, purpose, and so forth, and 'the music itself,' which is supposed to consist of pure arrangements of tones." This conception in the West of music as the product of a single person alone stems from a focus on the individual, the self, and the ego" (Ellingson 164).
All artists, Eastern or Western, expose people to new ideas. Through this process, artists shape the culture of which they are a part.