Music, a combination of “vocal or instrumental sounds combined in such a way to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion,” (1) is an essential aspect of every known culture in existence and at least 55,000 years old.
During those 55,000 years there have been a number of musical eras throughout the world (2). By far, the longest of these was the prehistoric era of music which lasted up until the development of writing. When the “oldest known song” was written in cuneiform writing around 3400 BC it kicked off the ancient era of music, some of the earliest examples of which trace their origins to ancient Greece, Persia, and India. With the start of the Anno Domini years many more musical eras appeared – in Europe alone there appeared the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras of music in successive order, each with its own distinctive styles and temperaments.
In the late 20th century, music and video became intertwined. This unhallowed match started with The Beatles, a popular English rock band that was said to have basically invented the music video with their debut 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night”, particularly with the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” (3). Music videos took several years to catch on, yet by the mid-1970s they had become regular features in music programs around the world.
Then, it happened - on August 1, 1981 at exactly 12:01 am Eastern Time, Music Television (MTV) was launched (3). With great foreboding, the first music video shown on MTV was “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Bugles, followed by the ominous “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar. Go figure.
There is a difference between music and video, a massive difference. Music is based on variations in sound. Video is based on moving images. They are not the same. Seems obvious right? Yet thanks primarily to video, I suspect that when asked to think of a particular musical artist or band many people think of the image of that artist or band before they think of their actual music.
Let’s test that suspicion. If I ask you to think of Eminem and his music, what is the first thing that pops into your head, the rapper himself, or the melody from one of his songs? Or if I ask you to think of Beyonce and her music, what do you think of, the singer herself or one of her songs? If the former and not the latter, then I would suggest that the images have overwhelmed the music. So how come that is? In a word, video.
However, we cannot blame everything on video. There are other factors bringing music down. Jon Petrucci of the band Dream Theater summed up his thoughts on the apparent decline of music in modern society with these lyrics from a song called “The Gift of Music."
"People just don't have the time for music anymore. And no one seems to care."
Petrucci laments the fact that people no longer seem to devote time out of their lives for listening to music; instead, music is now relegated to the status of background noise while most of the focus is put on some other task such as driving a car, doing something at work, or conversing at a social function. Alas, can it be possible that the “beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion” is now a mere distraction, a second-class citizen to other activities deemed more worthy of attention?
It would appear so. Music is now subordinate to moving pictures and scheduling conflicts.
It ain't right.
Making Time For Music
Back in 1995, I bought a CD from a band that I had never heard of. Took it home, gave it a quick listen, and hated it - the music sounded all wrong. Every time I thought the song was going to go in a certain direction, it went in some other direction that vexed me. I put the CD away and forgot about it.
Several months later and for some unexplained reason that I’ve now forgotten, I slapped that CD back into the stereo and gave it a second chance – or rather, it gave me a second chance. Not so bad the second time around; there were some positive features to the melodies. Eventually, after making myself lie in the dark with my eyes closed so as to pay attention to the music, I made it through the entire album in one go. Then I liked it. Then I loved it. Still do.
The album was “Awake” and the band Dream Theater, which remains my favourite band of all time to this day. No, they are not everyone’s cup of tea but that is not the point - the point is that initially I wanted the music to change to fit my preconceived notions, rather than change my preconceived notions to fit the music. By growing into the music, I found a gem.