Thursday, November 14, 2013

Music & Political Movements

I really enjoyed the chapter in Thomas Turnio's Music as Social Life regarding music and political movements. We've talked so much about the various types of music-making as well as the different symbolism, indices, and icons that come forth in music as well. I felt this chapter in particular summarized everything that we had been reading about. I've always had an idea that music was a channel for change, but once you start delving into the history books, you really begin to gain a sense of the extent in which music has been used to cause change.

Looking further back than the Nazi regime (WWII) and the Civil Rights movement that we read about in the book, one can find many other examples of music being utilized as a conduit for change. In order to gain a thorough scope of the number of civilizations and cultures that have used music for change, I will briefly discuss the instances in which music was utilized for change and discuss how such events occur.

The Greeks were among the first known civilizations to realize the true potential of music. They realized it could be used to unite a people to rebel against their government. Plato was even quoted as saying, "Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited. When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them." Plato had a lot of foresight in this quote, unknowingly or not. I wonder what he would think today knowing the number of instances that music and politics have wandered hand-in-hand.  

After the time of the Greeks, music still played a prevalent role in the lives of various people looking for change. Prior to Turino's mention of the Civil Rights movement and music, American slaves in the South, centuries ago, used music to pass time in the fields and to voice their opinions of servitude and freedom. The songs that were sung in the fields resonated were known by slaves located states away. Despite this separation, there was a calming, uniting effect knowing so many others felt exactly as you did. These same songs from the slave days carried over to the Civil Rights movement, and just as Plato mentioned, they ushered in a drastic change in this nation. 

Additionally, in the 1970s, rock 'n' roll was used to protest the Vietnam War. Those that were opposed to it voiced their opinions through song lyrics. Hundreds of protests occurred across the nation during the Vietnam War, and music was a focal point of these gatherings. It was an efficient way of uniting individuals to the same cause. More recently, in the 1980s, rap artists used music as a social movement to raise awareness about the poverty and violence plaguing low socioeconomic neighborhoods in major cities. 

An interesting aspect about music is that it is much more than instruments creating a beat and random words making lyrics. The music speaks to not only the individuals directly involved in the cause but those who may have compassion towards the particular efforts. The music evokes a sense of duty to the individuals who listen to it. Music alone is not what causes change; it just initiates it. The actions that result from the music is what drives the meaning home. Even though music and political movements have been studied, the relationship between music and people is still unclear. It could be a biological process for survival that makes music such a relevant force for change, or it could merely be a social part of our culture used to bind individuals together. Music for many years has been regarded as "the universal language." No matter one's language or ethnicity, music will speak to you. And I think that this is the reason music has been so successful in bringing about change in the world. Individuals, who have the ability to harness music for various causes, can be quite powerful. From readings and history, music has played a vital role in supporting or opposing the following movements: Jewish genocide, slavery, Vietnam War, violence, drugs and freedom. I don't foresee the elimination of music in political and social movements of the future. If anything, they may become more widespread since many more individuals have access to technology, which helps propagate its power and reach.    

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