In this guest blog, SHAR customer Paul Dittus asks the question "Why should anyone study music and why is it important?" His answer is a suprising one: drawing on arguments from classical philosophy, Paul argues that at its best music can connect us to beauty and truth. While not ignoring the dire employment opportunities for musicians, Paul reminds us that music is more than employment: it is enduring beauty. Note: This guest article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of SHAR Music.
Why should anyone care to study music? For a large income and a good job, right? In today’s economy you would probably be better off pursuing a degree to become a doctor or lawyer. If money is really what you prize, maybe you should consider pursuing something other than music. I would say getting a degree in music should help you get a job, but I do not believe it should be your ultimate goal and purpose for pursuing a music degree. What about fame? There are not many guarantees in this world, and fame is one that is not easily come by. Unless you are going to be the next “fiddler on the roof” and become a hit, you should probably not count your chickens before they hatch. This is not to say you shouldn’t dream big and set your goals high, it is more to make sure you are pursuing music for a solid reasons. If not for money or fame, why study music and why is it important?
Why does some music have the ability to captivate, inspire, and uplift you? Why did the ancient philosophers give it such importance? Why does it have such a big role in society now and in the past? These and other similar questions must be asked and pondered upon. Do not these questions give us evidence for the importance of music?
Plato once said that “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” What is it that attracts us to music? From the earliest time music has played a central role in man’s existence. Why do we get goose bumps when we listen to an amazing singer on YouTube? There is something about music that touches man at his core. Each person has a desire for happiness. Man receives happiness in a number of ways whether it be by sharing a coffee with a friend, reading a novel, or listening to a Mozart symphony. There is a communication or interaction with something or someone which reaches beyond man’s usual mundane everyday life.
Music lifts man’s soul to come into contact with what is True, Good, and Beautiful. But how can man encounter the sublime when we live in a world with fast food and thirty-second TV commercials? In modern society, time is a precious commodity not to be wasted on anything inefficient or not “worthwhile.” Society considers something “worthwhile” only if it leads to fame or monetary success. Music is often treated as a time-filler as you shop or walk to class. This allows one to appreciate music without having to become inefficient. Is this all that music was meant for? Beautiful music was never composed by the mindless, so how can we listen to it as noise to fill our minds? There is much thought that is put into each note on the page by the composer or by the musician interpreting the notes.
For the active musician, what determines the value of studying music? Should one's vocation or status in life determine the value of music? If one is a stay at home mom (with a degree in music) does not the importance of music and a love for it still remain? Does one learn music simply to get a job? Do we study music at college to get a piece of paper which allows us to make more money or to get a better job? Of course this part is important, but is it the end goal? Or perhaps we pursue music for a chance to become world famous, but what then? I think we should aim higher than simply getting a degree to receive a job and a chance for public acclaim. Does not music point to something greater? Does it not perhaps give the one encountering it a glimpse of our Creator's Goodness, Beauty, and Truth? Does it not indeed allow us to transcend above the ordinary mundane life we live to something greater?
I also believe it is really important for one to have a well-rounded education in music. I do not believe one should become strictly a "musician" who knows nearly no theory but can play any advanced exercise or piece, nor should we become strictly a theorist who knows how the piece or instrument is constructed but does not know how to make it come alive. Both extremes in my mind can become fruitless and lifeless. I believe everyone should ask themselves these questions (and many more, as questions give life to learning): Why is music important? Why should I pursue it? How can I communicate music with its great importance and beauty to others? As Socrates says, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being."
Is music not a part of the examined life?