Here is the whole quote” Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” That quote is from William Congreve’s poem The Mourning Bride written in 1697. It has been misquoted in many ways such as “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” and attributed mistakenly to William Shakespeare.
If you take a minute or two to think about there are many songs that actually have the word music in them. Here are just a few examples: Dance To The Music by Sly & the Family Stone, Rock and Roll Music by Chuck Berry, Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry, Music by Madonna, Don’t Stop The Music, by Rihanna, and one of my favorites Thank You For The Music by ABBA.
In a previous column I explained how certain songs bring back specific memories of a past time when I heard them before. The column also showed that music is about as old as mankind itself. Apparently prehistoric man began the practice. An article published November 21st in Phys.org by Harvard University has the title “Study establishes how some songs sound ‘right’ in different social contexts, all over the world.”
The Harvard team of researchers include Samuel Mehr a fellow of the Harvard Data Science Initiative and research associate in psychology; Manvir Singh, a graduate student in Harvard’s department of Human Evolutionary Biology, and Luke Glowacki, formerly a Harvard graduate student and now a professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. Quoting the article “They set out to answer big questions : Is music a cultural universal? If it is, which musical qualities overlap across disparate societies? If it isn’t, why does it seem so ubiquitous?”
It took the team five years to gather hundreds of recordings from both private collections and libraries and private collections of scientists worldwide. According to the article “Mehr and Singh added reel-to-reels, vinyl, cassette tapes, CD’s and digital recordings from anthropologists’ and ethnomusicologists’ private collections to the teams growing discography, combining it with a corpus of ethnography containing nearly 5,000 descriptions of songs from 60 human socities. Mehr, Singh and Glowacki call this data base The Natural History of Song.”
Their research found that music is associated with infant care, healing, dance, love, mourning, welfare, processions and welfare across societies around the word. Manvir Singh says “Lullabies and dance songs are ubiquitous and they are also highly stereotyped. For me, dance songs and lullabies tend to define the space of what music cam be. They do very different things with features that are almost the opposite of each other.” Singh says that the profound patterns of music demonstrate that human culture everywhere is built from common psychological building blocks. He says the study is trying to unlock the rules of “musical grammar.” Apparently that idea has been tossed around for decades among music theorists, linguists, and psychologists of music.
Here’s one last quote from Samuel Mehr “In music theory, tonality is often assumed to be an invention of Western music, but our data raise the controversial possibility that this could be a universal feature of music. That raises the pressing questions about structure that underlies music everywhere – and whether and how our minds are designed to make music.”
We’ve heard it said that mathematics is the universal language, but this research seems to indicate that music itself is also a universal language.
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