I wrote this in response to a Being Frank thread regarding loss of innocence in society and how this is reflected in music:
Yes, I don’t think people realize how powerful music is in affecting people and the society. There is a definite trend from the melodious and innocent music of the first half of the 20th century, to the much more aggressive, at times senseless (although sensuous) music of the latter half. What accompanied this trend was of course “sex, drugs” (“and rock’n’roll”).
In today’s climate of relativism, people see no problems with all and any kinds of music being presented to children and young adults. They follow what is called the “Praxial” view of music, which takes the truth that “different kinds of music have different purposes”, and take it to the extreme by saying that “therefore all music is as good as any other”. I see a huge problem in this.
The traditional view of music has been that some music is indeed better than others, and that it also plays a part in shaping people and societies for good or for ill. This is called the “Platonic” view of music, after Plato who said, “music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.”
The Platonic view of music is founded on the discovery of Pythagoras regarding the nature of sound and the ‘overtone series’. The overtones are produced on a vibrating string by dividing the string, first into a half, then a third, then a quarter and so on:
These are the sounds naturally produced above the main note (or “the fundamental”), and this determines which notes produce a more consonant sound in relation to the main note. For example, if I vibrate a guitar string which plays the note A, the first overtone (produced by dividing the string into a half) is going to be an octave above. The next overtone would be a fifth above, and so on. This is how you would arrive at a chord – C, E, G – which consists of the fundamental (C), the fifth (G) and the third (E). They “fit” together because of the nature of vibration, and are thus rightly perceived to be “consonant” (the earlier in the overtone series, the more consonant the sound).
This Pythagorian discovery is also the basis of harmony in Western classical music, which works through tension and resolution created through movement from the dissonant to the consonant, masterfully crafted by composers such as J. S. Bach. Music of this kind is based on objective reality, in harmony with nature of creation. It’s no wonder then for someone like Bach to proclaim, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
Plato regarded music, more than any of the other arts, has the power to influence people and societies for good or for ill. He had this to say about musicians who disregard the created order in music:
Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their works and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges. …the criterion was not music, but a reputation for promiscuous cleverness and a spirit of law-breaking.
I think the very same injunction applies to today’s relativistic climate, where music often produces ambiguity in tonality (ie. the fundamental note in the chord is unclear) and violent harmonic dissonances and harsh sounds (ie. sounds full of dissonant overtones) are often celebrated. Is it any wonder that truth and morality are made to sound ambiguous, or claimed to be non-existent, and violent hearts, minds, actions and societal disharmony prosper in such an environment?
I, for one, think not.