Why Music?


Believe it or not, the the cover story of latest issue of The Economist is music. You can read the entire article online here.

The piece darts through various theories as to why music affects us at all, let alone as deeply as it does. The strongest suggestion is that musical ability is an indication of sexual health and underlying reproductive fitness. In studying jazz musicians, for instance, it was found that their most prolific years are immediately following puberty, peaking at young-adulthood, and tapering off with the arrival of children. “Musical productivity…seems to match the course of an individual’s reproductive life.”

Other examples are cited, such as Jimi Hendrix’s having sex with hundreds of groupies, and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant admitting that his musical career was fueled and governed by sex and love. The idea is suspect in my opinion (There is no apparent record of the sexual prowess of musical conductors and oboists, for example…), but the notion is that the physical dexterity and mental creativity required to create music is desireable to the opposite sex.

Other caveats to this theory and others end up making the article a bit of a non-starter. Cooking, for instance, is arguably a more valuable skill for survival than music(evolutionarily speaking), but there is no increased “culinary output” that tracks sexuality as it does in the music of jazz musicians. Some biologists believe music to be a precursor to language, others hold that the opposite is true, and still some feel that music is an evolutionary “cheesecake”—a meaningless indulgence at best.  “Auditory pornography.”

But the thorn in the side of all the theories, and the reason the article’s final paragraph states that “nobody yet knows why people respond to music,” is the fact that music evokes emotions. While it is mentioned that many sounds in nature affect emotions (“fear at the howl of a wolf…”), the structured creation of an entirely man-made piece of music defies this logic. The timbres of different instruments, a vast array of musical keys and tonal patterns, and various harmonies and tempos can be skillfully combined by a musician to make people feel.

And, as of today, the scientists of the world still have no idea why. Musicians are our emotional sorcerers, casting mysterious spells over our affections and laughing in the face of modern science.


One Response to Why Music?

  1. W Surf St. says:

    I agree. 😉

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