While it has taken me a long time to finish this book, I have really enjoyed it. Reading How Music Works is like having a rich conversation with David Byrne about what music does for people and what people have done with music. Byrne describes the role of music, from earliest communication to ritual and religion to selling records, as an integral part of being human. For fans of his music, there are plenty of references to his creative journey, from busking alone to Talking Heads to making a building into a musical instrument.
“We don’t make music – it makes us. Which is maybe the point of this whole book.” (p.162)
Each chapter focuses on a different facet of music – the creative process, performance, collaboration, technology, business – drawing on diverse disciplines and musical traditions to show how much music is woven into our lives. In addition to discussing the gifts of the incredibly talented, the innovators and the birth of a “scene”, Byrne also talks about more mundane issues like funding and accessibility. Financial support can bolster an elite, conservative view of the arts or create meaningful social change in reducing barriers to participation.
“Music as social glue, as a self-empowering agent, is maybe more profound than how perfectly a specific song is composed or how immaculately tight a band is.” (p.314)
While the whole book is about connections, the last chapter brings it all together by linking musical intervals, mathematical ratios, architecture, neurology, dance and visual arts. There seems to be nothing that music doesn’t touch.
(My thanks to Tony for the gift of this book!)
[How Music Works, David Byrne; 2012, McSweeney’s, San Francisco]
The World in Six Songs by Daniel J. Levitin (author of Your Brain on Music) seemed like a gimmick, categorizing music into 6 boxes to show its influence on human evolution and culture. But I got past this premise to see the book as a vehicle for exploring the role of music in our lives – individually, socially and historically.
Levitin groups music in the functional categories of: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love. His supporting evidence for the importance of music in human culture is heavy on evolutionary biology and biochemistry. How did music become a part of every know human culture? The ability to create and/or appreciate music gives a survival advantage; for example, the ability to act in a unified way when battle is imminent, the sharing/memorizing of important knowledge without written language, or (more obviously) the ability to attract allies and mates. The experience of engaging in music stimulates the release of various neurchemicals that make us feel good (dopamine) and facilitate bonding (oxytocin). Levitin uses everything from hymns to punk rock, from national anthems to lullabies, as examples of how music is linked to human endeavours.
I found that Levitin’s arguments were rambling, with a good dose of name-dropping. The six categories overlapped and some of the examples used were stretched to make them fit the chapter heading. In the end, Levitin does not make a convincing case that music’s role in human culture can be captured in those limited categories. But – maybe because it resonated with many of my beliefs about music – I enjoyed the discussion of music as catalyst for social bonding and sense of well-being.
[The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, Daniel J. Levitin (2008) Viking Canada, Toronto]
Everyone who reads this blog knows I love live music and I’m lucky to live where I can get lots of it. Another thing I love about my community is that I can get local produce almost right through the year. Even when the snow is blowing and we are longing for spring there are tables full of good things to eat at our farmers’ market: apples, honey, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, maple syrup, eggs, potatoes, onions as well as baked goods, sweet and savory.
I brought these two loves together this month when my trio sang at the Elora Farmers’ Market. We saw how the music made people smile when they walked in – some even sang along. And we sang for the vendors, giving them something a little different to accompany their Saturday morning routine.
It may seem circular to write a blogpost about other blogs, but I have come across a few interesting ones I’d like to share with you.
Songwriting Scene was created by singer-songwriter, Sharon Goldman, in June 2009. Goldman, along with the occasional guest blogger, shares many interesting tips on songwriting, singing and the creative process, as well as a tab on “local scenes” which provides some leads on places to play (based in U.S.).
The Educated Songwriter is a vehicle for songwriter & producer, Cliff Goldmacher, to promote webinars and podcasts that can be downloaded for a fee. He also has a blog where you can glean some good info on songwriting and recording.
Brad Spurgeon’s blog covers music, travel, journalism and fiction but the project that most interests me is his Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Spurgeon’s work as a journalist takes him to cities around the world and he makes good use of his off-duty time by scouting out the live music venues where one can go listen to or play music. Although I won’t likely get to most of the cities he has profiled (Paris, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur & Barcelona, just a few examples) it is interesting to hear about these diverse, thriving shared music scenes. And if I ever get to one of the cities on this continent (Montreal, Austin), I’ll be sure to consult his guide before I go.