Talk:Essay:Music is not neutral

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Musical instruments in church

This is peripheral to the main point of the essay, but the exegesis provided of Ephesians 5:19-20 seems to completely refute the Church of Christ's stance against instrumental music in church services. DanH 18:14, 9 June 2008 (EDT)

Glad you noticed. In fact, at our church there's nothing wrong with using any particular kind of instrument, especially if it derives from an instrument with a known Bible reference. What matters is what sort of music we want to make, not what we make it on. Now sometimes we decide not to use certain instruments, not because we see no Scriptural warrant for using them, but because most music written for such instruments—drums, for example—would not be appropriate for the occasion.--TerryHTalk 18:16, 9 June 2008 (EDT)
The nature and use of music in the Church has been a contentious issue for some time. The original stance of the church was that the voice was to be the primary instrument, until the Renaissance brought multiple keyboard instruments that could adequately keep harmony such that only a choir of vocalists could before. However, with the rise of Protestantism, specifically Calvinism, music was seen as an evil and secular thing that debased the purity of Canonic plainchant. Most Protestants, however, Lutherans included, expanded the role of music in the Church. AdamN 08:21, 11 June 2008 (EDT)

Music and moral context

Interesting essay, but I don't quite follow your argument. You are, of course, perfectly right to say that different types of instrumental music create different responses in listeners. Music is clearly not neutral in the sense of providing an aural wallpaper. But how does this translate to morality? Listening to Rachmaninoff arouses very different feelings in me than listening to, say, Haydn. But I would not know where to begin in rating them morally. Haydn is usually wittier and more joyous, while Rachmaninoff is more sensuous and melancholy. But I have no idea how I would classify them in terms of their morality. Eoinc 19:02, 9 June 2008 (EDT)

The problem is simply this: Certain types of music, types that you will more likely find in the popular category than the classical, have the effect on the listener of enhancing sexual desire. And note that I said more likely. Maurice Ravel's Bolero is one example of a sexually provocative work that some place in the classical category. That's a fairly rare example among the classics, to be sure. But ask yourself why film maker Blake Edwards selected Bolero as his theme for Actress Bo Derek's character in 10.
Aristotle made the specific point: if you fill your mind with a steady diet of sexually provocative music, then you will be sexually provoked. Likewise, if you fill your mind mainly with melancholy music, then you will be depressed. But if you listen mainly to something like, say, Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man, you will get the message, "I can do great things, too."--TerryHTalk 19:13, 9 June 2008 (EDT)
I'm not sure I agree with that. As a classical musician, my favourite works are the most tormenting, the most emotional, the most soul-rending possible: Shostakovich, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, de Sarasate, Saint-Saens, and the list goes on. By your methodology, I should be the saddest, sappiest human alive. But I, like most of the other in the music department, am not chronically depressed because of the powerful music we listen to and play on a daily basis (I'm not chronically depressed at all). I would argue that musicians' study and involvement in such music is much more powerful than somebody who just listens to it, and any emotional effect would be much more pronounced on players than on listeners.AdamN 08:29, 11 June 2008 (EDT)

Flaws

Miklós Rózsa did not write the same kind of music for the motion picture Ben-Hur that he wrote for a much later motion-picture project, The Power.

This would seem fairly flawed as evidence; as accompaniment for movies with deliberate themes, the music will naturally differ, but this would not seem to have any evidenciary value for some sort of inherent moral message to the music. In other words, absent the actual movies, it seems unlikely merely listening to the music would give the listener any notion at all of the movies' messages or themes. Clearly, music has pacing and trends, and can be quiet and contemplative or fiery and loud. But an emotional response is a far cry from a moral one. You might want to choose a new example.

Except that your argument assumes without warrant that any medium can transmit emotional messages but can never transmit moral ones.

Plato, for example, famously said, "Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws."

This is a pretty interesting choice for a quote, coming from the most-often derided portion of The Republic wherein Plato argues for complete censorship of "songs" (which means literature, poems, as well as music). I believe you would also note, if you had read the section, that he is speaking of emotional content with regards to this portion. You might want to remove this quote. The Aristotle one is more on-key. What's it from, The Poetics?

Not done. Regardless of Plato's underlying motive, he did make a true statement. That "emotional content" includes feeling good or bad about obeying the laws, and manipulating feelings to influence legislation.

One has only to listen to the sort of music that was popular then to understand what Mr. Tiomkin was talking about. And if anything, the current state of popular music is even worse today than it was more than forty years ago.

Couldn't this also be evidence that older generations have always found the music of their youth to be dissonant and unpleasant, and predicted it would lead to bad results? I believe that has been the trend through history, has it not?

Well, now--have you a citation to establish that?

As to the whole, you do not so much as provide reasoning as supply quotes that are simply opinions. If music can carry a negative moral message or affect behavior, I am sure you could find some empirical research to that effect if you looked. Short of that, and absent any chain of logic, I am not sure what you can accomplish with this essay.--Tom Moorefiat justitia ruat coelum 02:04, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

Those opinions are from two of the foremost philosophers of the Western world, and one who composed songs and instrumentals for a living. I'd say those men are qualified experts.--TerryHTalk 06:04, 10 June 2008 (EDT)
Except that your argument assumes without warrant that any medium can transmit emotional messages but can never transmit moral ones.
My argument doesn't assume anything; I'm not making one, if you read it. I am just pointing out the flaws in yours. I'm not saying that music can't do that, just that nothing you say is indicative of such a fact.
Not done. Regardless of Plato's underlying motive, he did make a true statement. That "emotional content" includes feeling good or bad about obeying the laws, and manipulating feelings to influence legislation.
Okay, but it's still just his opinion, not to mention it's the section held most highly in contempt in very nearly anything he wrote. I'm just pointing out that it's a fallacious appeal to authority.
Well, now--have you a citation to establish that?
To establish... my question? I was asking you something. You have been reading about the history of music, and discussing on the music page about how there were riots with Listz or whatnot, so I was positing a query to you: has that not been the case? I was under the impression that people have always found the new trends in music to be contemptible and predicted disaster.
Those opinions are from two of the foremost philosophers of the Western world, and one who composed songs and instrumentals for a living. I'd say those men are qualified experts.
You think two ancient philosophers and a composer are sufficient to establish a fact like "music can carry a moral message?" Well, it's your essay, so I guess it's your lookout, but personally they don't seem qualified to me to assess something like that. You might want to support your argument with reasoning or evidence, is all I was saying.--Tom Moorefiat justitia ruat coelum 13:29, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

Of course you're making an argument. You contend that I have not shown what I set out to show. That is an argument. And furthermore, either my thesis is correct, or yours is, i.e. either music is not neutral, or it is neutral. You say that showing an emotional effect is not enough. I say that it is, for two reasons:

  1. The emotional effect itself has a moral dimension. Having established that music can provoke emotions, you then have to ask yourself what is the proper time and place for such a provocation.
  2. Emotions follow from values. Any medium that affects the emotions must therefore speak to values.

As regards appeal to authority, I am chasing down some sources for quotes from actual performers in the rock-and-roll genre, performers who boast that their work is all about inciting the sexual impulse. In the meantime, I'd say that Dmitri Tiomkin's expert opinion as a composer is worth listening to. And I noticed that you did accept Aristotle.

What I was asking you to "establish" is your maxim that no generation of music listeners has ever fully appreciated the musical tastes of their children/cousins once removed/whomever. And in any event, that wouldn't be relevant to the question of whether the alarm by any given generation is justified or not. What's relevant is whether we can define an absolute standard by which to call music moral or immoral. I say that we can. Any music that appeals to the prurient interest is the equivalent of a brown-paper-wrapper magazine. Beyond that, we can certainly define appropriate and inappropriate uses of certain kinds of music.--TerryHTalk 14:11, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

Of course you're making an argument. You contend that I have not shown what I set out to show. That is an argument

Fair enough. Okay, I was making that argument.

And furthermore, either my thesis is correct, or yours is, i.e. either music is not neutral, or it is neutral

This is not accurate. I didn't have a thesis, I was just pointing out flaws in yours. I do not take either position; it is not something I had ever considered.

You say that showing an emotional effect is not enough. I say that it is, for two reasons The emotional effect itself has a moral dimension. Having established that music can provoke emotions, you then have to ask yourself what is the proper time and place for such a provocation.

That would seem an argument for appropriateness, not morality. Playing Marilyn Manson during a wedding is undoubtedly inappropriate, but it would not be immoral.

Emotions follow from values. Any medium that affects the emotions must therefore speak to values.

Emotions sometimes follow from values. The notion of theft irritates me. But so does the notion of Al Franken being in the Senate. The former is from values, the latter is just because I find him irritating; I agree with most of his views and he hasn't done anything I find objectionable. Furthermore, your statement is just about the most clear fallacy there can be. You are saying that if emotions (a) follow from values (b), then emotions must cause (a) values (b). Yet it should be obvious that just because A follows B, does not necessarily mean A causes B (or B causes A, which is the more common version).

As regards appeal to authority, I am chasing down some sources for quotes from actual performers in the rock-and-roll genre, performers who boast that their work is all about inciting the sexual impulse. In the meantime, I'd say that Dmitri Tiomkin's expert opinion as a composer is worth listening to. And I noticed that you did accept Aristotle.

I'm sorry, I must not be making myself clear: mere opinions from people, be they ancient philosophers or musicians or composers, would not be sufficient to support your point, inasmuch as I can see. The statement that "music can carry a moral message" is an empirical one, and should be easily researchable. I would be immensely surprised if no one had studied that, especially in light of such exposure as can be found in A Clockwork Orange. That would be the appropriate support.

What I was asking you to "establish" is your maxim that no generation of music listeners has ever fully appreciated the musical tastes of their children/cousins once removed/whomever.

My "maxim?" I was asking you if that was the case, since I was under the impression that it was. I don't understand... are you saying it is not true?

And in any event, that wouldn't be relevant to the question of whether the alarm by any given generation is justified or not.'

It wouldn't? I would think it would relegate you to those ranks, unless you could come up with some solid evidence.

What's relevant is whether we can define an absolute standard by which to call music moral or immoral. I say that we can. Any music that appeals to the prurient interest is the equivalent of a brown-paper-wrapper magazine. Beyond that, we can certainly define appropriate and inappropriate uses of certain kinds of music.

I would certainly agree that there is certain music that might be immoral, but that would be related solely to the lyrics. It actually seems laughable to me that music itself might be immoral.--Tom Moorefiat justitia ruat coelum 16:52, 10 June 2008 (EDT)


TomMoore, if you say that you are not here to advance the thesis that music, absent any lyrics, is neutral, then that begs the central question. In any event, I stand on the second part of my statement: either music is neutral, or it is not neutral.

That part of the statement is absolutely true. It is a binary question.

How can emotions not reflect values? If someone gets upset, that presupposes an answer to the question, "What is (s)he getting upset about?" Same for the opposite of "upset."

I gave an example. Another is that I feel joy and pleasure in a high wind on the beach. There is no moral basis for such feelings, I just find the arrangement of nature inherently pleasant. And again, the real problem with your argument is not your statement that emotions always reflect values, which is certainly arguable, but rather that correspondingly values must reflect emotion. That is a classic fallacy, and wrong.

The problem with "empirical studies" lies in finding an impartial judge, or even an impartial witness, in today's climate.

That's why there is methodology and you don't take someone's word for it. That is why science is so great.

For the record, I certainly do challenge the maxim that "every generation has shuddered to think of the musical tastes of its children/cousins-once-removed/whatever." Can you show that such a thing has held true throughout all of recorded history? And more to the point: we dispute the possible reasons for such shuddering.

No, I can't. That's why I asked. It was my impression (not sure why you decided it was any kind of maxim), but you appear to have done more research on it. So I asked the question. Why do you insist on trying to turn this point into contention rather than what it was?

Also for the record, I grew up with the earliest "rock and roll," and I preferred the classics. I always knew what real music was supposed to sound like, and the very rich messages it could convey. I'll take Modeste Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition or A Night on the Bald Mountain over Elvis Presley's "Rock Around the Clock" any day.

That's very nice, and I'm glad your personal preferences line up with your views on the matter.

And more to the point: Lyrics aren't everything. FYI, a Southern Baptist youth-hall counselor and music director (read "worship team leader" in current SBC parlance) tried to set hymns to rock-and-roll melodies and entered this act into American Idol. One of the judges was a big rock-and-roll star himself—I'm trying to chase down this performer's name and a definite citation for this statement. That judge is reported to have told that minister that he picked the wrong genre; he ought to have set his hymn to country-and-western, which is compatible with expressing awe toward God, and avoid rock-and-roll, which is 99% about sexual excitation and incitation.

That is a very interesting personal opinion from someone who has observed a cultural trend.

The quotes I have seen generally hold that those who do this for a living know perfectly well that certain types of music would never be suitable for a religious message. Which is why they set their lyrics to the tunes that they chose.--TerryHTalk 17:31, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

I agree that certain types of music are more difficult to accompany religious lyrics. That is entirely true. That has zero bearing on any inherent religiosity of the music itself.--Tom Moorefiat justitia ruat coelum 19:21, 10 June 2008 (EDT)
I agree, Mr. Moore. It is the lyrics in this case that carry all moral weight and value. Take the lyrics away, and you could just as readily fill the music with lyrics from the Christian rock group "The Riots" than with some 50 Cent or something, instantly reversing the music's "morality." AdamN 08:33, 11 June 2008 (EDT)

Only immoral by association.

Music is in and of itself only organized sounds. It cannot be immoral without a connection to lyrics, or some other association with ideas. --Tim (CPAdmin1)talk Vote in my NEW polls 17:23, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

I beg to differ. And I further point out that most of the American Top Forty artists would split their sides laughing at any attempt to deny that their "art" is about much more than sexual incitation and excitation.--TerryHTalk 17:31, 10 June 2008 (EDT)
Oh, I'm not denying that. I am saying that apart from the associations, the music itself cannot be immoral. --Tim (CPAdmin1)talk Vote in my NEW polls 18:34, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

Ear of the beholder?

I, (unfortunately), am tone deaf and most of the music I hear all sounds like noise. Some of it is pleasant while most of it is cacophonous nonsense. "Classical" music could cease to exist and that'd be fine by me. My mother sent a kazoo to my five year-old for his birthday and though his older siblings howl in protest he gets cranking on that thing, I find it soothingly mellow. Marge 18:54, 10 June 2008 (EDT)

Very interesting

I stumbled across this essay while looking over Conservapedia, and was quite interested at your outlook of music. As a violin student preparing to begin my Master's, I have studied music not only in the West, but across the world, as well as its cultural meanings and implications, and I must argue your main point. Based on my years of study on the subject (though mostly from my Post-Tonal Theory courses that I just recently took) I would have to say that music itself contains absolutely no moral or emotional implications, and is interpreted purely by the preconceptions of the listener. A perfect example is how we Westerners feel when we hear the major and minor modes. We instantly equate the major mode with happiness and triumph, and the minor mode with sadness, tension and foreboding (among others). Most people (including me, if you asked me a few years ago) would say that this unified view of major/minor as light/dark heavily suggested the non-neutrality of music. The interesting bit is that many cultures, particularly in the East, had the modes swapped, associating our minor mode (specifically scale-steps 3 and 6) with happiness, and the major mode with darkness. You bring up Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man as being naturally uplifting, and I would certainly agree with that... from my musical perspective. But I know others who simply do not find big, bombastic brassy music to be uplifting, and actually find it quite disturbing, preferring instead works such as Indian Talia (can't remember if I spelt that right!). Another example is the works of Shostakovich, especially his 8th string quartet. When I first listened to a recording in preparation to play it, I basically heard atonal nonsense that meant nothing to me. But then I read more into Shostakovich's circumstances, including his harrowing history with the likes of Stalin and Zdhanov, and suddenly the music was shaped by my conception of Shostakovich's pain in a terrible existence. Meaning in the music was generated by my preconceptions, where there were none to begin with. In my opinion, association of morality to music is the same thing, shaped purely by the listener: the violin was originally morally aligned with the devil, and that view has changed considerably over the years. Now I do concede that lyrics have ingrained morality, just as any work of poetry or back-alley graffiti does as well, but these are "placed" onto music, in order to inject neutral music with moral and emotional meaning. Please let me know if I interpreted something wrong in your work, but either way I would really enjoy discussing this further with you. AdamN 00:54, 11 June 2008 (EDT)

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