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]