Whether we’re singing in the shower, playing instruments or dancing to our favorite song, music can make any activity more exhilarating. From classical symphonies to snappy pop, music can have a profound effect on us. The art form has been used to entertain, inspire, enrich, motivate and get humans in touch with beauty. It can also be a tool for communication, a way to express emotion and even to fight insomnia. But what exactly is music?
It’s a question that has been debated throughout the centuries. Some philosophers have thought of it as a symbolic representation of higher truths, while others have considered it merely an extension of the human voice or breath. But it seems that no one has been able to provide an absolute answer.
From Ancient Greece to the snappy pop of modern times, music has been interpreted in numerous ways by the diverse populations that have created it. Ethnomusicologists have found that music is often “implicated,” or repurposed, for ideas and agendas beyond its original conception. It has been used to strengthen the power of governments, sell cars, foment revolution and convert souls to a particular religion.
The Platonic view of music, which treated earthly music as a shadow of the ideal, was inherited by Aristotle and reinforced by Plotinus in the 3rd century AD. This idea that music embodied something universal was influential in later Western philosophy. It gave rise to the idea that works of art could possess a measure of truth in themselves, an idea echoed by Rene Descartes in the 17th century.
Another school of thought, that of the Pythagoreans, believed that musical harmony was fundamentally mathematical. This idea was picked up by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in his notion of “the Harmony of the Spheres,” which attempted to link musical rhythm to planetary movement.
While these philosophical debates are intriguing and sometimes fun, let’s not forget that music can still just be music. Some of the most popular songs, from Taylor Swift to Free Bird, were not randomly thought up, but carefully crafted over time by dedicated musicians and fans. They are an expression of love, sorrow, longing, hope and the simple thrill of life.
So the next time you’re grooving to your favorite tune, take a moment to appreciate that it wasn’t just thrown together, but the result of hard work, passion and dedication. It’s a beautiful thing that can make our lives richer, happier and more colorful. Thank you for reading, and have a great day! –Sarah B.