by Zettler Clay

I am reading a book now entitled The Secret Power of Music by David Tame. Its premise is that music influences virtually every physical, intellectual and emotional process. Harmonious music makes a plant grow faster, dissonant music stunts and kills it. In fact, music can even change chromosomes. Peaceful cultures listen to more melancholy, harmonic music. Violent cultures listen to more dark, clashing music.

This seems kind of primitive, no? However, there is slick profundity in this logic. Every specific occasion of the year lives its own native music type. Easter. Summertime. Church, Club. Christmas. Music foments a certain feeling inside each of us that nothing else can replace. Reading a book might make you cry, but listening to a song could make you cry and throw a chair across the room. The philosopher Confucius argued against foreign music in his province because its sensuality could unsettle the natives. He was intractably uncompromising in this. Ever imagine why in every romance scene, a soft piano, flute or saxophone is featured? Or why in war scenes the tuba and the snares stick out? How about a sports training scene without the trumpets and trombones?

Why is this even relevant? Because music can stir up feelings and emotions that we might not be aware of. No, I am not one of those people who blame music (i.e. Marilyn Manson and Columbine) for the actions of people. But I do believe that music is a significant factor on our overall stability, thus effectively determining our proclivity to perform certain actions.

Immediately, one’s mind will turn to examples of certain cultures and the music presumably representing them. We are too often tempted to make judgments on individuals within the presumably represented group. The lesson there is that a group, that is its average perception in our collective minds, is stronger than the sum of its parts. In other words, no one person is bigger than a culture – what music does to (or for) an individual can be a microcosm of its effects on the larger population. Given that, the effect of a variable on a culture is best measured in more localized groups. For example, any representative group of young black middle-school boys in this country will undoubtedly approach the question of their masculinity with an eye to the heroes they find in music.

In a perfect world these young boys would find a variety of masculinity to choose from no matter where they were searching, but in reality the spectrum is limited. As a result the attitudes they project, rightly or wrongly, to each other and to those around them including their female peers, is undoubtedly influenced by their choice in music. What will they find when they turn on the radio, or television, or steal some time in the computer lab on websites they probably aren’t allowed to visit? It’s not pretty – hyper masculinity, misogyny, and materialism – but that is not really the point. The central issue here is that music seems innocuous, until it isn’t. By the time most grown adults realize the true influence music has on them, it is after the fact. For younger minds that realization might not come, simply because pop culture literacy 101 is not taught in any middle school I’ve seen.

Maybe it makes sense. Or this could all be balderdash. But exploring the latent powers that influence our most powerful and gullible engine, the subconscious, is always worth the scrutiny.