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Music has long been an expression of people from different cultures around the world. The oldest artefacts that show people playing musical instruments are found in Asia and are around four thousand years old. Other archaeological findings suggest that different cultures around the world have always focused on their own special instruments and unique methods of playing them. However, no matter how much music may have differed in different parts of the world, it seems that music served a general common purpose: to bring people together.
It comes to no surprise that music was widely used in temples and religious ceremonies throughout the world. The involvement of community in each culture has caused music to evolve in a way that is unique to each one. Furthermore, as world cultures come into closer contact, they naturally have an influence on one another, such as bluegrass music from the United States, which is a blend of Irish, Scottish, German and African-American instrument-playing and singing.
The aspect of community has been so deeply intertwined with music, that it is difficult to say whether it is music that affects society or if society is reflected in the music that it plays.
To say that any one type of music can influence an entire society is a big generalization.
Does music affect society? Or is our popular society shaped by the musical sounds that are directed our way and manage to reach our ears? Are various evolving musical styles simply a continual expression of the subcultures that created them?
The emergence of folk music during the 20th century, and particularly the rise of popular folk music of the 1960’s, is probably the best example of music affecting society. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and the largely unpopular war in Vietnam was well underway.
Folk music is, inherently, music played and sung by and for everyday people—music for the masses, so to speak. Naturally, when a culture becomes aware of radical changes that awareness gives way through expression. Folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie began writing “protest music” and songs in support of popular movements of the day. Other folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez followed suit.
For the first time, music was not only a vehicle for expression, but it was also a way to mobilize and inspire listeners to think differently and take action. The music typically embodied idealistic thinking, shunning capitalism and material comforts. People in the US, particularly the youth, had showed a variety of favorable responses to this genre of music. Shifting from the sterile, clean-cut popular image of the 1950’s, there was a general trend toward freedom, individuality and expression. Generally speaking, ethnic, natural fabrics and hand woven or embroidered clothes became popular; the youth became more open about their experimentation with drugs and sex; there was an overall rejection of power structures and authority. American society was changed drastically and in a lasting way.
Since the tumultuous times of the 60’s and 70’s, pop folk music has faded out of the limelight. With more complex systems of mass communication, pop culture has become more informed by radio, television, movies and the Internet. Furthermore, technology is paving the way for modern urban subcultures that have their own unique styles of music, expression and life philosophies. Music still affects society today; only now, the influences occur in more complex, diverse, and at times subtle ways that are impossible to measure or define.
Published: 7 January 2005