Does Music Influence?

music02In Genesis 1 of the bible, God created. With respect to man the Book says he made him out of the dust and he breathed into him to make him a living soul. Essentially, creating entails not just forming a thing but perhaps more importantly, giving life to what has been formed. The process of transmitting or transferring life (our nature, our identity, our ideas, etc) into the things we make can be regarded as ‘making them in our image’. A thing so made then takes on an ‘aliveness’, a personality of its own, something that identifies it and distinguishes it from other things, and which at the same time reflects the nature and character of its creator. Verse 20 of Romans chapter 1 says that God’s creation shows his invisible qualities and thus takes away man’s excuse for not acknowledging him.

The great diversity we see in nature suggests that God is not just awesome; he loves to create, to make. The ability to create is obviously one aspect of his image that he transferred to man, and like God, man loves to employ his creative powers.

Musical art is one area in which man does a lot of creating. Every piece of music you hear is someone’s creation, and every piece of music has an identity, a personality of its own. Personality generates impression, and impression breeds influence.

Musical personality   

First, let’s examine the nature of the personality of music, or, more precisely, the personality of a piece of music. What could it consist of, or derive from? The lyrics? The beat or rhythm? The melody or melodies perhaps?  Basically, these different aspects of a musical creation combine to give it its identity, exerting their contributory weights to different degrees and in differing proportions from one piece of music to another. In most modern/contemporary creations, the melody and the lyrics stand out as the foremost identifying elements, but these with the beat and style, the tempo, the instruments and the performance skill and style of the musicians all interplay in a rather complex manner to generate what we may call the personality of the particular creation. This personality speaks, in a way not generally restricted to the lyrics. It speaks, not just to the ear, but also more significantly to the heart, to those subliminal parts of our humanity where difficult-to-analyze responses interact subtly to mould us into what we are. This musical personality speaks, often very strongly, eliciting such responses in us as hardly anything else known to man could induce. In other words, as stated earlier, this musical personality makes an impression.

Impression

It must be stated early that even though the impression a piece of music makes depends on its personality, it also depends on the condition, position and direction of the listener. We walk a subjective terrain here. It is like when we confront human personalities. One girl loves a particular young man for his boisterous and confident air; her sister just can’t stand the sight of him, for the very same reasons. Similarly, the same piece of music makes different impressions on different people, depending on what they are and on where they are coming from. But let me make an important point here: our differing perceptions (impressions) of a particular piece of music do not alter, define or redefine the personality of the music, just like the differing responses of two sisters to the same young man do not confer on him two different personalities.  A slice of orange has its taste; one defined by the chemistry of its constitution and state, regardless of the possibility that one kid loves it and another does not. Similarly we cannot hope to define the personality of a piece of music in terms of subjective variances in appreciation.

What is of utmost importance here is to acknowledge the fact that a musical work of art makes an impression, an impression that derives primarily from what we have here chosen to refer to as its personality, and an impression that is in turn defined in terms of our individual subjectivity. Therefore, whether we consider such an impression to be negative or positive or good or bad depends on what we are and where we are coming from. And having acknowledged this, we must also understand that an impression, once made, has the potential to generate or define influence. In regard to music, as in almost anything else to which we may attribute personality, impression is a primary means to influence.

Influence

From your standpoint as a listener, music that makes a positive impression on you tends to hold your attention.  (The word positive is used here not in the sense of good or bad, but rather in the sense of strength of appeal.) Such music tends to invite you back again; it tends to ask you to identify with whatever it is that it might be saying, and in a lot of instances, it invites you to identify with the worldview and lifestyle of the artist. Your response to these invitations invariably determines the degree of influence the music exerts on you.

To compound things a bit for you, these invitations are often subliminally transmitted, and you are often not even conscious of your own real response! This brings in the point that music, perhaps like other art forms, influences not only by means of the personality-impression process described above, which assumes a conscious response. You do not have to be aware of the process, or to respond consciously to perceived impressions, for influence to occur. If you hear a given work of music long enough, it will affect you, one way or another.

Does it matter?

Considmusic01ering that the average person listens to his preferred works of music not because he seeks influence but for pleasure, shouldn’t the gratification of this pleasure be sufficient justification for going ahead with his choice, no matter what anyone says?  What does it matter if any kind of music is presumed to wield any shade of influence over its listeners? Does anyone possess the standing to decide for others what is good or bad music? What rights does any one have to specify what amounts to good or bad influence?

There is a great din of voices out here, countless divergent thoughts and opinions laying claim to truth and wisdom while floating about in flimsy mists of subjectivity, desperately seeking footholds for themselves in whatever minds would let them. In my view, it is dangerous to seriously open up your mind to the questions above, until you have first of all tackled more basic questions relating to life and eternity. It could be like a lost man in the midst of an apparently seamless forest who simply strikes out without first of all seeking to determine whether he’s facing north, south, east or west. How can you decide what the right path is when you don’t even know what your destination should be? How can you begin to argue about what is good or bad until you have accepted or adopted a standard for judging?

In my view, one should first of all tackle the question of what to do about the disturbing claims of the one called Jesus Christ before going on to babble about what really matters and what does not. The fact is that this person, whatever you think of him, leaves us not many options.  He says we are either in or out, and that he is the only entrance we could find, and that rejecting him amounts to choosing a life in which nothing really counts. Of course, who says he is right? The fact that his claims and teachings have haunted and tormented humankind for two thousand years does not prove that he is right. They only perhaps suggest that it might make some sense to pay a little attention, no?

For those who choose to choose him (that is what it means to believe his claims), everything counts. For them it matters what they do to their bodies and their minds.  They know where they are going, and they are aware that certain trappings would prove quite unhelpful on the trip. They have the navigational sun of their lives in sight, and therefore they can think to avoid certain routes that would only lead them away from the heaven they’ve been promised.

Now if you really want a life in which nothing matters (except perhaps your self-will), then go ahead and reject him. Set yourself free from the terrors of his intimidating claims, and do as you wish with your life.  Pour yourself a full cup of that terrific brew you’ve concocted all by your self, and gulp it down to the very dregs. Strike out in whatever direction catches your fancy, since as it might well turn out, you are heading nowhere.


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