The influence of music on individuals and their lives is unquestionable. Many studies confirm that music regardless of its genre, pace or origin affects human experiences in different ways (Ramadani 248). While listening to a song, a person can undergo a change of mood or find the energy to perform an activity that is too boring to complete in silence. However, although music undoubtedly affects separate individuals, the impact of music on a population as a whole remains unclear. One can argue that music comes from a particular society, thus, it is a part of it. In this case, a specific culture stands above the music and influences it.
On the other hand, it is possible to assume that music can impact society and change its course of history. Therefore, music becomes a separate entity and stands above the cultural phenomenon. Alternatively, culture and music may be interconnected where one can influence another. Although society may include its ideas and concepts into music, the latter can also significantly affect one’s perceptions and thoughts. Moreover, the question of the music genre also contributes to the debate. For instance, classical music and popular music can be different not only in their sound but also in their impact on one’s life. However, the effect of music should not be undermined. Music affects individual lives as much as it impacts culture in general.
The Role of Music and Culture in People’s Lives
One can see the effect that music has on people’s lives in numerous studies about the psychological influence of songs and compositions. For instance, Ramadani notes that traditional music can instill a sense of belonging and patriotism in a person of that nation (249). Here, music is a part of the culture that unites or distinguishes individuals. Brandellero and Janssen continue this thought, stating that one’s musical heritage can be used to commercialize the cultural significance of music, making it an attraction for other persons (225). Thus, it is possible to argue that the cultural aspect of music it what brings one’s attention to it in the first place. Here, the concepts of music and culture are interconnected as one is perceived to be indistinguishable from the other. While this statement is not false, it is also not entirely accurate.
Music can be very different, as the authors note while talking about heritage. Various types of music may cause different effects on ones’ cognition. For example, the notion of popular music does not correspond with such genres as folk or classical music as the scholars state that these genres are “generally less reliant on industry for its production, distribution, and consumption” (Brandellero and Janssen 226). The idea of pop singers that change the way their songs sound so often that some people negatively view this music type in its entirety has a completely different effect on one’s culture. Thus, the impact of music, in general, maybe not as easy to determine as one might think.
How Music Affects Culture
The concept of classical music in relation to culture, for example, can be interpreted differently from one person to another. Whale points out that “we talk about the people who attend performances of the symphony as originating from a variety of cultural backgrounds, but we also say that they are engaging in a cultural activity” (27). This description of culture should be taken into account when one talks about its different parts. Here, classical music cannot be considered as a part of one’s culture that can be interpreted correctly by one nation alone. On the contrary, this specific type of music may unite people from different countries and affect their understanding of music, changing their perception of culture. As the author argues, Beethoven’s symphonies are universal in their quality and significance, and Germans, the nation of the composer, can appreciate his creations as much as other individuals from different parts of the world. Therefore, the impact of classical music is not confined by one’s heritage as it spans across nations.
Wang writes that classical music can be considered as a part of the common culture that people share regardless of their heritage (195). Social diversity which affects folk music and makes it unique with specific traditions does not change the way people view classical music as it stays relevant after being recognized as a particular part of history. Therefore, this kind of music stands above the concept of culture as one’s national history. It becomes a driver of human history as the music guides people and their ideas through time. Classical music is not affected by one’s individual tastes as much as it is not under the influence of any nation. Although at the time of their creation, the symphonies of Beethoven most likely followed the customs of his people, now this music itself may influence the way one thinks.
The effects of globalization brought a different perspective on one’s identity as it does not rely on one’s place on the planet anymore. Currently, popular music can come from various corners of the world with a strong emphasis on Western countries. Thus, the impact of these states’ cultures, including their music, is extremely powerful. Popular music that reaches different countries may affect the perception of these people and change the way they choose which songs are good and which are not. In this situation, one song can be influential for a short or a long amount of time, either disappearing without a trace or completely changing the whole industry. The spread of music at the end of the twentieth century can be an example of this phenomenon. Pop music that appeared on the television through music videos allowed people from different places to share interests and tastes. More importantly, it had some negative outcomes as well, as it created a measure of comparison for individuals, affecting the way they view their culture in opposition to the practices of others.
In this case, music becomes one of the determinants of one’s cultural significance. It may affect different art mediums as well. However, for the most part, it impacts one’s view of his or her specific social background. For example, Cohen talks about the historical significance of rock music from Liverpool, which allowed the city to receive a status of the European Capital of Culture in 2008 (577). The history of this music genre shows that one particular band, namely the Beatles, became the primary reason for the city to receive this award. The Beatles was an influencer that changed the history of its hometown as well as the genre of rock music itself. Therefore, the impact of one music band was so enormous that it affected the cultural background of a nation and the structure of a genre. Here, the effect of music on culture is undeniable. This example is not unique, as many artists affected the industry and society with their music before the Liverpool rock band.
How Culture Affects Music
While the examples mentioned above show that music can influence one’s culture, it is possible to discuss the arguments that state the opposite. One may say that culture creates and manipulates musical movements in order to represent the flow of history. For instance, the creation of punk music in Europe was a way to rebel against the commonly accepted values, and the music of that period was affected by the political and societal notions of the population. While this argument has a logical foundation, it is necessary to point out that the initial creation of punk music and counterculture as a whole may have been initiated by a political state of the countries. However, the changes that were brought to the genre were most likely the result of certain individuals with unique ideas. As mentioned before, the Beatles turned the industry around and changed the way people viewed rock music. The effect of artists on the counterculture and its development may have been the same.
Another argument may bring up music that is deeply interconnected with one’s cultural background. One may say that this particular genre is influenced by culture as its sound is dictated by the traditions and customs of a certain nation. Moreover, the role of such music in history is often undermined, treating the products of this art type as additions to architecture and illustration. Thus, it is possible to assume that folk music has no influence on one’s culture. However, one should not treat music as if it cannot have any impact on culture development. In fact, while folk music does follow the traditions of a nation, it can also create or modify them. In fact, the concept of music creation is also essential to the development of culture as it affects the way people perceive it. As Hertzman states:
Culture is not marginalized as it once was… The sound should be an important part of our work, but we should take a cue from it… [those] who … are interested not only in sound itself but also in the many different things that go into producing it. Following their lead will help us grapple with music’s ethereal nature without conceiving it as something that simply floats in isolation … disconnected from the broader historical forces that shape it. (256)
The author argues that separating music and treating it as an insignificant part of one’s culture which cannot have any power to change it undermines the role of music in people’s lives. Thus, the place of music in the stories of people is important as it can shape one’s culture and impact it in various ways.
Music plays a prominent role in peoples’ everyday lives and history in general. It can create movements and guide the existing cultures in their development. Different genres of music can affect the world in different ways. Classical music, for instance, lies beyond one culture and unites people with different backgrounds because of its universally established significance. Popular music, on the other side, goes hand in hand with global culture, shaping one’s perception of the current world and affecting the way people compare and contrast themselves with each other. Furthermore, folk music, while being shaped by particular social traditions, has its impact too as it shapes one’s understanding of cultures and allows people to see their history from a new side. All in all, music shapes culture as much as it is formed by it and the two concepts are so interconnected that it can be hard to separate the influences which they have on people.
Brandellero, Amanda, and Susanne Janssen. “Popular Music as Cultural Heritage: Scoping Out the Field of Practice.” International Journal of Heritage Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, 2014, pp. 224-240.
Cohen, Sara. “Musical Memory, Heritage and Local Identity: Remembering the Popular Music Past in a European Capital of Culture.” International Journal of Cultural Policy, vol. 19, no. 5, 2013, pp. 576-594.
Hertzman, Marc A. “Toward and Against a Sounded History.” Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 96, no.2, 2016, pp. 249-258.
Ramadani, Ilir. “Music, Culture and Identity.” Academic Journal of Business, vol. 3, no. 1, 2017, pp. 248-253.
Wang, Juan. “Classical Music: A Norm of “Common” Culture Embedded in Cultural Consumption and Cultural Diversity.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, vol. 47, no. 2, 2016, pp. 195-205.
Whale, Mark. “How Universal is Beethoven? Music, Culture, and Democracy.” Philosophy of Music Education Review, vol. 23, no. 1, 2015, pp. 25-47.