Voyage 10. MUSIC MADE OF BODY AND SOUL
MAN IS BY NATURE A MUSICAL BEING; meaning that the song, the combination of music and lyrics, mainly together with movement or dance, has always been a fundamental characteristic of humans, serving their respective needs. Besides, music, speech, and dance, a “Holy Trinity” according to Palamâs, show how close the relationship between sound, body and soul is.
“Music – speech – dance: a Holy Trinity” (Kostês Palamâs)
The strange thing for us is that the ancients, even the primitives, felt the impact of musical sound onto their bodies much more intensely than modern humans. Obviously, Christianity and the Occidental mentality are largely responsible for the enormous degradation of our senses. Thus experts of many disciplines are now required to work together in order to fully understand this subject in depth.
Natural sounds played a key role in the genesis of music: sounds of Nature, human voices, the sounds of their tools, constituted raw “materials” that gradually began to take shape. According to Darwin, a primary stimulus has been the animal cries, especially during breeding season, when an orgasm of sounds and movements prevails, so rich and varied that man inevitably imitates responding to that call of Nature’s Choir. Man, however, as a species of the animal kingdom, has congenitally had his own “repertoire” which he gradually enriched – initially by imitation and later by inspiration.
The emergence of art was directly linked to elementary manifestations of magic, even before the latter was systematized to some form of religion. Cave paintings, of a much later period compared to music, are examples of utilitarian art: men tried to exorcise the animal they depicted so as to have plenty of game, or propitiate its “spirit” in case of an awe-inspiring beast. That is why the cave paintings are usually not found in the “living room” of the cave, but deep inside, at the “sanctuary”…
Spirit propitiation had broader applications: e.g. to natural phenomena that seemed supernatural, or during work time to coordinate movements, or even to master the “spirit” of the stone or wood that men wished to turn into a tool. Music played a key role in such cases. But it was lost in the mists of time. Today, millennia later, we can comfortably admire the cavemen’s performance in visual arts. But who has ever listened to their songs?
The question above is rather rhetoric. However, there is another question that is crucial to be answered: What is music? What’s its origin?
What is music? What’s its origin?
Music is found everywhere, in every culture or civilization, even the most isolated tribes: it is a characteristic of the human species – perhaps of other species, as well. At any rate, music is influenced by all aspects of a culture or civilization, including socio-economic organization, lifestyle, climate, technology… The emotions and ideas expressed by music, the situations in which it is played, the attitudes toward musicians and composers – all these vary according to space and time.
As we have said, music has probably had its origin in the sounds and rhythms of Nature. Men most likely imitated these phenomena using similar patterns with repetition and tonality. Even today musicians at times deliberately imitate natural sounds: folk fiddlers trill like birds, while Beethoven’s “Pastoral” 6th Symphony recreates the soundscape of a thunderstorm. Sometimes onomatopoeia is related to shamanistic beliefs or practices.(a) It also serves entertainment and edutainment, or practical purposes (such as lure of animals in hunt).
If the imitation of a bird song is considered music, then the bird song itself may also be regarded as music! Indeed, according to a study of zoomusicology,(b) bird songs are based on musical principles: those of repetition and transformation. And it’s not only birds: whales and dolphins have also exceptional vocal capabilities, while monkeys are unrivaled on drums and percussion while beating hollow logs, perhaps in order to demarcate their territories, creating rhythmic patterns in which some experts detect elements of “dialogue”, “call and response”.
Of course, everything depends on our definition of music – that is, whether a “musician” has the intention to stir up emotion through his sounds, which is probably linked to his ability to reflect about time (past and future). Men became artists sometime between 60 and 30 thousand years ago creating cave paintings, jewelry and other artifacts, while they started burying their dead with rituals. It was a form of “cultural revolution”. If we assume that those new forms of behaviour suggested the emergence of consciousness, then music – as we know it – appeared in the same period. But this is a rather narrow conception of music. As it usually happens in Africa so far, in prehistory too the concept of music was broader, including dance and worship. At that time it also served communication among the members of a group of people helping to coordinate action and strengthen their bonds. Thus, its role was crucial to their survival.
Music evokes strong emotions and opens paths to other states of awareness. In general, strong emotions are associated with evolution (reproduction and survival). Darwin pointed out the importance of music to sexual selection.(c) Singing and dancing require large energy reserves. Therefore, a singer-dancer, like a peacock displaying its feathers, is more likely to attract a mate to date. But there is a counterargument: in most species using singing in the selection of mates, it is the female that chooses and the male that sings – as a rule alone. In the human species, however, music is mostly a team sport where everyone is involved. Man is the only mammal having mixed choirs (with men, women and children). Something similar is found only in certain species of Australian and African songbirds with males and females singing in chorus.
The first musical “instrument” was obviously the voice of man who, even before he could master speech, had a vast range of expressive sounds: singing, humming, whistling (another vast range), producing various sounds through the mouth, imitating natural sounds, shouting, laughing, crying, coughing, yawning… (See Darwin’s The Origin of Species on music and speech). Add motion to all these sounds: not only dance, but also grimaces, gestures and movements of individual body parts (head, arms and legs). Similarly, the first percussion “instruments” were hand claps, finger snaps, stones, wood and whatever could be used to accentuate rhythm. Man-made instruments appeared much later when humans started making tools.
Let me make clear by the way that talking about “men”, in fact, I refer to the Hominini. The oldest tools found in today’s Tanzania were made 2.6 million years ago, that is, before the emergence of the various human species (Homo). We suppose that the first tools were made by Australopithecus who transmitted this knowledge to Homo habilis. Our ancestors passed to a new phase of tool-making 1.7 million years ago with Homo erectus. I maintain, therefore, that sound preceded speech and that music, song, a capella (without instrumental accompaniment), emerged together with voice as a characteristic of some Hominini or even Hominids. Besides, we already know that music was not born by Homo sapiens – who, as they say, were musically not as talented as the Neanderthals!
“The Singing Neanderthals”
In the beginning was the sound:
music is older than speech
In his study The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body, Steven Mithen, an archaeologist and professor of early prehistory at the University of Reading in England, expands mainly two ideas: a) the parallel development of what modern man calls music and language, and b) his own original idea that the Neanderthals had a peculiar proto-music/language: it was holistic (not composed of segmented elements), manipulative (influencing emotional states and hence behaviour of oneself and others), multimodal (using both sound and movement), musical (temporally controlled, rhythmic, and melodic), and mimetic (utilizing sound symbolism and gesture) – “a pre-linguistic musical mode of thought and action.” That is why, as Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca have said, “many suppose that chanting is the earliest form of language.” (See Voyage 4).
In her review on Mithen’s book, Ellen Dissanayake of the University of Washington in Seattle initially lists the… ocean of knowledge such a study requires: evolutionary theory; human evolution (social lifestyle, environment); palaeoarchaeology (linguistic and musical abilities and their development); anatomy (ear, vocal tract, brain and musical capacities); neurobiology (brain chemistry, musical cognition and emotion, neuroanatomy of music); origin and evolution of language (similarities and differences with music, semantics, syntax, prosody); music-like communication systems in other animals (non-human primates, whales, birds, etc) and their relevance to human communication; music psychology and linguistic behaviour in infants and children; ethnomusicology; the art and practice of music; as well as the findings of music therapy and the psychology of musical emotion. We can additionally mention biomusicology and evolutionary musicology.
Those “Singing Neanderthals”, according to Mithen, had a vocal tract and respiratory control that could have enabled speech, but they lacked the neural network that was necessary for language. This simply means that in the beginning was the sound: music preceded speech.(d) Moreover, pre-sapiens hominids such as the Neanderthals lacked metaphorical thought – the ability to have in mind at the same time information from several different cognitive domains. Symbolic artifacts have not been found in their dwelling sites, indicating the absence of symbolic thought and hence symbolic utterance: spoken language. Yet the challenges faced in such a hostile environment during the Ice Age required complex emotional communication and cooperation. So they developed a “music-like communication system that was more complex and more sophisticated than that found in any of the previous species of Homo”. Mithen emphasizes the importance of “emotional intelligence” – the ability to express one’s feelings with face, voice, and body, and decode the emotional signals of others.
Music as the Mother of Speech
(Rousseau, Herder, Humboldt, Darwin)
Singing was also preferable to talking. Why were the symbols of spoken words less reliable than an emotional melody? What were the pros and cons of language?
What is language? What’s its origin?
“What is language? What’s its origin?” – reads the notice at the entrance of a Congress Palace where a thought-provoking international symposium is taking place. Inside the building, of course, everyone… disagrees with everyone else; however, there is a recurring theme of almost paramount consent, something that escaped even Darwin’s attention: a prerequisite for the emergence of language, they say, is that there must be trust within the tribe – what we now call “society”! Some kind of social transformation, therefore, generated unprecedented levels of public trust, liberating a potential for linguistic creativity. Under normal conditions, as the saying goes, “words are cheap”, “double-talk”, unreliable symbols on which the tribe could not count for survival – that is, language was not trusted to become an evolutionarily stable strategy.
When a cat purrs, the signal constitutes direct evidence of the animal’s contented state. We trust the signal because it just can’t fake that sound. Vocal calls of the primates may not be so trustworthy. Their social intelligence is characterized as “Machiavellian” – self-serving and without moral scruples. Monkeys and apes often attempt to deceive one another, while at the same time remaining constantly on guard against falling victim to deception themselves! Paradoxically, this very trait is theorized as blocking the evolution of a language-like communication among them! A verbal signal sounds like the shout “Wolves!” by a shepherd trying to fool the others in the well-known pedagogical moralizing story. Once proven false nobody takes it for granted or even cares. Therefore, socially reliable institutions are necessary, where every scoundrel, either “monkey” or “shepherd”, is accountable. In a hunter-gatherer society, a basic mechanism inspiring trust is the collective ritual. (In our society, all the above adequately explain our crisis…)
Baby talk and the embryo’s audio stimuli
Last but not least is what we call “baby talk” – not the talk of a baby still unable to speak, but the one used by adults (usually mothers) while addressing infants, touching and caressing them: a melodic and undulating language, combined with strong gestures, exaggerated facial expressions and rhythmic head and body movements. This is indeed a language as the baby understands the meaning of all these sounds and movements: that is, comprehends the mother’s intentions. In this sense, such a language is similar to music having two main functions: to strengthen the mother-child relationship, and help the infant to speak. This way his/her chances of survival increase. Man’s ability to synchronize himself with an external pulse – which is probably unknown to other mammals, including primates – derived from the primordial mother-infant interaction which in time transformed itself into a proto-music, and also a proto-language.
“Baby talk” has a similar “vocabulary” in all cultures. The way mothers and babies raise and lower their voices, change simultaneously expressions and move their hands is similar everywhere, despite linguistic differences such as between musical and dynamic languages. The reasons may be genetic or environmental – in the sense that all embryos grow in a similar environment and can hear twenty weeks before birth, far longer than other animals, most of which cannot hear before birth. During these weeks, the human fetus can also perceive movement and orientation. In addition it senses the emotional state of the mother via the internal sounds of her body (voice, heartbeat, footsteps, digestion, etc.) and in this way adjusts its postnatal demands (e.g. crying), improving the chances of its survival. The embryo’s capacity to learn and remember sound patterns seems to confirm this theory. In this case, the internal sounds of the human body and their relationship with the emotional state may be associated with the relationship between audio-rhythmic patterns in music and their strong emotional charge.
“The human being is a musical being by man’s very nature”. (Iégor Reznikoff)
“Man”, Iégor Reznikoff remarked,(e) “is a speaking being. However, I am absolutely sure that he is also a musical, a singing being, like the birds. We know that the various species of birds are also distinguished by the way they sing. The same happens with humans who are distinguished not only by their speech, but also by their singing.
“These features, I believe, are part of human nature. They are deeply connected with man’s organic nature – his ears and throat, that is, his vocal capacities. That’s how he is born and created since his conception. A child e.g. can hear even when it is in the womb of its mother as a fetus and remembers some elements of music and its mother’s voice or her song.(f)
“Music is deeply rooted in humans. Singing is a characteristic of the human species. It is not something recent in man’s social life. The mechanism of hearing and its relationship with speech is characterized by complexity and located deep inside the brain. Thus it cannot be something recent. In short: the human being is a musical being by man’s very nature.”
Generally speaking, the different species are born as tabula rasa regarding their acquired qualities – those that must be gained after birth, depending on the current conditions faced by each species for its survival. But they bear in their DNA all those inherited capacities and qualities that emerged as acquired (upright position, articulation, etc.) and ensured the survival of the species during the millennia of its evolution. It is where all the wisdom of the past is stored – together, of course, with the natural musical capacities.
However, talent, an innate musical inclination or “musical ear”, do not characterize all men but rather a minority. How comes that some persons can sing beautifully or at least correctly, while others, who equally love music, sing out of tune?
“There is innate musical disposition, musical talent, which is often hereditary: see the Bach family”, said Professor Demetris Thémeles “But in general terms, everyone can learn music up to a point. Most people sing out of tune because they’ve had no proper musical education – except in some cases where they may have some physical problem e.g. hearing impairment. Or they may listen properly and have some feel for music, but face some problem in the larynx muscles. There are cases of distinguished musicians, productive composers, who are ‘cacophonous’, that is, they cannot sing well because of such problems.”
Nevertheless, in the Third World and, moreover, in the countryside, anywhere far from metropolitan urban centres, that is, wherever children are naturally brought up, almost everyone can sing and dance well. How comes? Here’s an answer by Ellen Dissanayake:
“It is not spoken language itself that overlays or stunts musical ability, but the factors in modernized societies that have made music a specialty – individuality, competitiveness, compartmentalization, and institutionalization – reinforced by the high degree of literate (not oral improvisatory) training required to read (and compose) musical scores as well as literary texts. In small-scale pre-modern societies (and in any large modern sub-Saharan African city, as well in children anywhere who are customarily exposed to frequent communal musical activity), everyone participates in music – regularly, spontaneously, and wholeheartedly – and benefits thereby from the many adaptive advantages” it offers.
You can see, therefore, how crucial is the role of the mother, as well as that of the family or social environment in general, for the development of a child’s innate musical inclination. This must be the explanation for the existence not only of musical families, but also of musical tribes such as gypsies and blacks. Not everything is hereditary, despite the important role of heredity: the potential capacities must be cultivated; otherwise they remain dormant, inert, like some atrophic member.
“We can say that African Americans have this divine gift”, Reznikoff commented, referring to the innate inclination, the special talent. “Africans have a long tradition in music and singing. Furthermore, they have kept some primitive ways of expression and emotion, and thus they are probably closer to antiquity. The ancient Greeks also loved singing and dancing very much, as the Arabs do now.
“Since we are human beings, with the senses of audition and vision, it happens that we have constants in art. These constants in music have to do with the natural laws of resonance and consonance: when a chord is vibrating, it follows the laws that govern the sound, producing sounds and harmonics that delight our ears – therefore, our bodies respond.
“It is striking that an instrument like the cithara can be found in all cultures. The behaviour of a string and our bodies is the same everywhere. Something similar happens with the auloi. Note that these instruments have been used in different ways in all cultures. But with few exceptions, and apart from modern Western civilization, we can see everywhere the same musical laws to apply. It is a global concept of consonance precisely because we are dealing with a natural law.
“This concept, however, was lost since the early 19th century when the piano was introduced into music changing the natural tuning of the instruments; because the piano is tuned differently, with the equal intervals of the tempered scale. This tuning is wrong if we consider it from the point of view of natural resonance. It is due to the enormous development of music – but a kind of cultivated, sentimental, conceptual music which has abandoned its natural foundation that is rooted in our body and soul.
“The same has happened in painting: we have the ancient art or even iconography, and then we have the art of beauty, even if it depicts saints or Theotokos. See Raphael’s Madonna: she is really beautiful, her movements are beautiful, and art lies in this beauty, not in the power exerted deep inside your soul by an icon. We have lost these deep roots related to our biological bodies – because we must not forget that we are material beings obeying to natural laws. Nowadays art is too conceptual as e.g. abstract art, or even electronic music with computers.
“In antiquity people had delicate, fine ears catching all nuances. The lyre was a ‘soft’ instrument like the old traditional ones. When one listened to music on those instruments, he used his spirit even more – let us also remember the long texts of old songs. Now, of course, we have all those huge pieces of machinery with the many decibels! All instruments are amplified and modified for that purpose. The violin is already a ‘hard’ instrument like the piano.
“I personally believe in a natural approach of antiquity – without imitating and copying it. We must go back to the delicate acoustics of antiquity, because finally man remains the same body and soul. These natural laws – so rich that they have created all those cultures – are like oxygen for us. In the big cities, of course, we may live in air pollution but we are not made for this: it is better for us to breathe fresh air…
“Music’s purpose in antiquity was not just fun. It mainly had to do with the invisible world. This is also true for the Pythagoreans, and later for the Platonic school or previously for the Orphic tradition which influenced the Christian Church. For the Orphic tradition, music actually serves as a link to the invisible: for the preparation of the journey of the soul after death to eternity”…
The “labyrinth” of Reznikoff’s thought and the contraposition between “soft” and “hard” instruments may confuse us. The key to grasping its essence lies in that apt example from the art of painting. Sweet melodies and gentle voices e.g. in most lullabies are the equivalent of Raphael’s Madonna. Quite the contrary was what Plato has suggested about children that cannot go promptly to sleep: “mothers do not offer them peace, but rock them instead, and in this artless way they make the kids fall asleep”. If you experiment, they say, you see that the… Platonic technique is highly effective!
A similar misunderstanding seems to obsess psychotherapists who choose music with soft sounds, having waters trickling and birds singing as a… garnish in the background. Exactly the opposite was what the ancients were after during their psychotherapeutic rituals with the deliberately intense and monotonously repetitive music.
“Fire cleanses, while water purifies”, said Plutarch. Catharsis in ancient Hellas was the mental and moral purification through Dionysian ecstasy.(g) Using suitable melodies and rhythms, they caused the mentally disturbed to flush to such a degree that a reaction would follow bringing him back to his previous normal condition. They were methods of magic surviving even in the “civilized” world until the 60s. Now that we have become so very “cultured”, musical sounds can hardly excite us…
Catharsis was the mental and moral purification through Dionysian ecstasy. The spectators of tragedy were subjected to catharsis through feelings of pity and fear caused by the heroes’ suffering and tragic end. (Aristotle)
“There was a close link between swamps (sources of infections and fever), the subsequent neuromental disorders and their cure with music in the therapeutic rituals of the Korybantes and the Bacchantes.(h) These data allow a better reading of ancient texts. We can reconstruct them not anymore in an entirely irrational context with widespread mysticism, but in a reality with tragic experiences in the time line.
“Thus, the biological and pathological cause of hallucinations reappears as an archetype of the mythological and dreamlike world of fantasy. Although the monotheistic religions expelled the ancient gods who played a therapeutic role, they did not eliminate malaria – a scourge as old as the world but always present. This Thraco-Phrygian and Orphico-Pythagorean music therapy survived more or less in some folk, religious or pagan, traditions.
“What did these specific kinds of music consist of? What level of body and soul did they affect on? How and why were they effective? The texts give us an idea. Can we get even further? Obviously, if we work on this rich and diverse file with a fortunate conjuncture of data of the geographical and ethnological hematology, and medical anthropology – sciences that already contain a wealth of information – adding the results of ethnomusicological studies, without forgetting medieval and ancient musicology, either Oriental or Occidental.”
With this… Sibyllic synopsis of her paper, Music in the Therapeutic Rituals of the Korybantes and the Bacchantes, Denise Jourdan-Hemmerdinger tried to give some idea to her audience at the 3rd Musicological Symposium in Delphi in 1988. Unfortunately, she had a formidable opponent: relentless time. Within a very short time – granted to each speaker – she had to expand on her vast topic that could be the subject of a separate symposium. The… machine gun tempo she chose to say “everything” in time eventually proved to be a boomerang for her and her extremely interesting topic.
Scientists, however, albeit disconnectedly, managed to do some ethnological, musicological and medical research in India, Indochina, Siberia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Haiti, Native Americans (Indians and Eskimos) and elsewhere. In our territory such phenomena were observed in Magna Graecia, especially in the area of Taranto, with the famous tarantella dance that was formerly used as a key element of the musical exorcism to counteract the poison of the tarantula spider.
Part of the same tradition is a mainly Thracian, centuries old fire ritual called anastenária (nestinarstvo). The oldest written information about such barefoot dances on smoldering embers is found in Euripides’ The Bacchae. Later Strabo spoke of Artemis’ priestesses in Asia Minor and Italy performing such dances at will. In Byzantium the dancers were called “psychária” or “asthenária” (hence anastenária or nestinari), while around 1800 such rituals were prevalent not only in the Balkans but also throughout Anatolia.
Anastenária’s most striking feature is probably this “incombustibility”, or “immunity from fire” – the (seeming, at least) negation of a natural law. This part of the ritual stirs our imagination so much that almost everyone forgets to mention the key role of music and dance that, as many experts say, contribute to an emotional release and thus have a therapeutic effect on the participants. In a sense, therefore, the ceremony is a psychotherapeutic ritual system.
Music and dance contribute to an emotional release and thus have a therapeutic effect on the participants.
These systems, according to Levi-Strauss, provide the patient with a gateway to express inexpressible states. During the therapeutic process the participant receives from outside a social myth that has no conflicts and, therefore, does not correspond to his previous personal condition. In this context, reality is compelled to identify with this social myth. Without music and dance, however, methexis is not possible:
“Monotonous music”, the psychiatrist Constantinos Constantinides wrote in his Notes on Fire Walking of Anastenária and a Possible Explanation of Incombustibility, “is a prerequisite to a change of mental mood, creating an equivalent emotional state, and triggering the subcortical (motor and emotional) centres, so as everything is automatically and easily executed, eliminating the inhibitory effect of the cortex.
“Motivated in general also by music, dance is known as a largely automatic event and as such a new prerequisite to the creation of the whole mental ecstatic state, and even more if it is religious. That is why all primitive religions are ‘danced’; all happy events are ‘danced’. When dancing, there is a peculiar emotional state; there is more automation and unconscious function; there is more or less self-absorption and a break of contact with the environment. One could say that dance is a certain step to ecstasy, opens the way to the phenomenon of ecstasy.”
“Dance is a certain step to ecstasy, opens the way to the phenomenon of ecstasy.” (Constantinos Constantinides)
“Music in particular seems to coordinate a tendency to group unification”, another psychiatrist, Pantelés Kranidiotes, commented on his part, analyzing Anastenaria as a Psychosomatic Phenomenon. “C[onstantinos] Romeos realized just that, saying ‘music makes the human soul to feel such desolation that it desires to mingle with the other dancers seeking to let it go’. On the other hand, P[olydoros] Papachristodoulou underlines the impact of music on these people saying that music ‘exerts some particular influence on the nervous system of hysterical, naïve peasants’.
“But anyway, regardless of the quality of the receiver, everyone would perceive this fascinating power of music, if above all he experienced the crucially overwhelming davul in the ‘hangout’, where ‘all the spectators were agitated and rocked’ under its sounds.
“Emotional arousal is inevitable when music is more familiar. This is obviously the aim of conflating this religious ceremony with songs, which clearly translate the various deepest emotions of the people’s psyche and where above all is the dominion of heroic elements, which can only bring about an arousing, wild ecstasy.
“This combination seems much more efficient to induce the required emotional orgy than the ecclesiastical chants and hymns, which are totally absent in this religious ceremony, as they produce a rather static ecstasy.
“This music of fire dancers, which over the centuries is familiar to them, is a creation and property of their own emotional universe and that is why it can definitely stir it and indeed with an intensely arousing way. But here it seems that rhythm plays the main role in music and – as the musicologist Mr. [Pantelés] Kavakópoulos says – ‘what excites the fire dancers is the davul with its varying rhythms’.”(i)
Rhythm, inextricably connected to dance, is the first musical element man experiences. The first sound the fetus hears is the mother’s rhythmic heartbeat, long before it enjoys her singing – if, of course, she has a sweet voice. But even if she doesn’t, the pulse is there, recorded in the deepest subcortical centres of the brain; when excited, man’s inhibitions are neutralized and that’s how he is overwhelmed with ecstasy, acting not as an individual but as a member of a group.(j) Melody, therefore, the second element of music, is intentionally monotonous and persistently repetitious, while the lyrics are just as rudimentary: precisely to prevent the re-activation of the cortex and to achieve the culmination of ecstasy.
The first sound a fetus hears is its mother’s heartbeat recorded deep inside the brain; when excited, man’s inhibitions are neutralized and, overwhelmed with ecstasy, acts not as an individual but as a member of a group.
All that could not go unnoticed by ancient Greek philosophers who have seen with their own eyes how crucial the role of rhythm is for the preservation, modification or loss of ethos in music. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others have investigated the ethos of rhythm, melody, genera and harmonies or modes, not only because music was the foundation of education, but also because – quite rightly – they considered music as a form of language, capable of expressing as much as speech and exerting a catalytic effect on people, especially youth.
“There is nothing among people that is performed without music”, Aristides Quintilianus used to say, while Plutarch noted that “the formation and preparation [of young people] to be good [citizens is achieved] through music”, for Orpheus’ art is beneficial “on everyone and every well-instructed act”, concluding: “Foul music and wicked songs lead to prodigal morals and unmanly lives, and men to indulgence and flabbiness and effeminacy.”
The ethos of music is generally distinguished as exuberant – the one causing agitation or excitement; restrained – that is, the opposite; or serene – that calms down. Apparently these comprehensive philosophical studies were based on observations on ancient folk rituals similar to the musical therapeutic ceremonies. Philosophers have found that every rhythmic or melodic movement causes certain emotional reactions, positive or negative – depending on the intended purpose. Thus they concluded that the sounds with the beneficial effects should be praised and the others to be condemned.
The ethos of music – of rhythm, melody, genera and harmonies or modes – was distinguished as exuberant, restrained, or serene.
Naturally, the concept of ethos, which was the focus of attention of every philosopher, was also used for the condemnation of every musical innovation by the conservatives, as we have already seen in our previous Voyage. In no way, however, does this fact mean that ethos is worthless for us. Why else should that ancient Hellenic concept be adopted by Persians and Arabs?
On the other hand, isn’t this concept completely unknown today? Why should we care about the ethos of music (and not only of music) in an exceptionally unethical era in every respect? Isn’t it an… anachronism?
Dear reader, my dearest fellow traveler, don’t you think that having come thus far, it means there is a deeper and serious reason?
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After the Voyages of the MEDITERRANEAN PERIPLUS,
let’s go on to the Chronicles of ONCE UPON A… WAVE!
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”