Music and Identity: Overview

The human mind is a shapeless and constantly shifting entity of its own, far surpassing our conscious understanding and in order to create a sense of solidity we develop identity. Identity is difficult to define as it is still subject to large philosophical and psychological debate but is given a broad definition in order to satisfy the many different views as “maintaining a state of continuity of self and remaining same over time”.The formation of identity and the many ways in which is is formed is subject to even more theological debate but for the purposes of this essay I have chosen to break it down into four main categories: experiences, expression, reflexivity and recognition. Music like most forms of creative expression is an extension of the self and in turn a reflexion as it gives tangibility to our thoughts, emotions and ideas.
Music operates on multiple layers of self-identification, as it can highlight ethnic, gender and cultural traits. Music has been a part of human identity since the dawn of man.From ritual dances of ancient tribal peoples to the war songs of ancient Greece and Rome to the more developed forms of music of the Renaissance. It was during the late Renaissance that music began being printed and distributed cheaply and became accessible to a wider audience, it was during this period that a social schism was created that reinforced the separation of higher and lower class, as music of the people or “Folk” music became popularized in the lower class and “Classical” music maintained within the aristocracy, each type with its own socially defining associations.The Baroque era had a huge impact on music because music was observed as a planned composition meant to instill specific emotions and ideas in the listener. Where previously there had been no real fashioning of music, a musical language was developed using a powerful rhetoric of notes meant to guide the emotional experience. The Classical Period began in the 1750’s and was the freeing of the composers from the private employment of the aristocracy, which allowed for public concerts and aided in the popularization and growth of the orchestra.
Technological developments have since had some of the largest impact on music as composers could begin to record and playback and through this, perfect their individual sound. Music is a constant reflexion of cultural trends, an efficient example of the potency of music in creating identity would be the swinging sixties. It was a time of cultural rebellion, millions of youth across the world developed a renewed sense of individual liberty, pooling together and creating a community and new ideals through music.Music had never before been attributed such strength to shape the belief system of youth culture so directly. The song “My Generation” by Pete Townsend of the who written in 1965 is a perfect example of how music works in classification. It was written by the group to express the cultural differences that emerged between their generations and previous ones who could not understand the shift of belief systems. Music is an auditory form of communication utilizing tones in a continuous structure way.

In the book Lost in Music: Culture, Style and the Musical Event, John Shepherd writes that “It can be asserted that because people create music, they reproduce in the basic structure of their music the basic structure of their own thought process”. If music is the expression of the individuals thought process and individuals are conditioned and molded by the society in which they live, then it would only be logical to conclude that music can be used as a social indicator.Expression in forming the identity is used to convert thoughts into physical form and is also known as verbalization. Lyrics are a very important aspect of songs as they create a new relationship to a piece. They can deliver a very precise and direct message and therefore hold significance to the listener as they choose to indulge the message when they listen to it and are in turn influenced by it. Music has rapidly become more diverse as new styles emerge, each with its own category whether it be hip-hop, rock, classical, country etc.The artists are often the models used to create the lifestyle of the music, this can be explicitly noted in goth rock and hip-hop as some listeners actively exhibit characteristics of the artists.
Each kind of music brings about a particular set of values and preconceptions. There are also ethnic divisions in music, as music develops distinctly around the world different styles are created by different cultures, these kinds of music become the musical foundation of people living and reinforce national identity.

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