Is Music A Civilising Force?

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Sir Roger Scruton explores the civilising force of music.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

In the first of five essay's responding to the BBC's TV series Civilisations, Sir Roger Scruton explores the notion that music might be a civilising force. His response draws on his own boyhood experiences of Classical Music as well as the nuanced thoughts and conclusions of Plato. He also tackles the uneasy relationship between history's less savoury music enthusiasts, Stalin and Hitler, and the lack of any civilising impact it had on them. There are no pat answers to these serious and challenging questions, but Sir Roger's conclusions rely for the most part on his responses to music and the potential he sees in it alongside religion, morality and love in any encounter with darker forces.

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Anatomist and osteoarchaeologist Alice Roberts looks at music's humananising force.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Professor Alice Roberts chooses to look thousands of years back in human and pre-human history for signs and signals that music was not so much a civilising as a humanising force. Her exploration takes her to ancient archaeological sites where traces of early instruments have been found and the evidence of shifts and re-shapings in our pre-hominid ancestors which suggest some kind of musical interaction long before language developed.

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Professor Kofi Agawu examines the civilising force of music from an African perspective.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Professor Kofi Agawu of Princeton University provides the third in The Essay series running in parallel to the BBC TV series Civilisations. Once again he is responding to the question of whether or not music is an entirely civilising force, and he does so having just returned from a visit to west Africa. Prof Agawu wonders how the musicians of the Asante kingdom, the sophisticated drummers, poets and singers, might respond to the idea that what they do is civilising, but he also tackles the colonial notion that the music of the colonisers was somehow superior to indigenous music and with that civilising. It's not a theory that stands the test of time when he recalls the four-part Lutheran hymns he remembers from his youth with the highly sophisticated rhythmic and poetic structures of Asante music which are now used in serious and popular music around the world.

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Jameela Siddiqi explores the civilising force of music from an Indian perspective.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Jameela Siddiqi remembers her own relatively late discovery of the power of Indian classical music in the hands of the Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. A successful TV news producer with a stable job and a casual enthusiasm for music from Bach to the Beatles she found her world turned upside down by a concert by Khan in the late 1980s. She describes what happened to her, the musical world into which she felt inducted and the qualities of that world that she believes are entirely civilising.

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Paul Morley concludes the series of essays debating music as a civilising force.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Paul Morley would be happy to sign up to the notion that music is a civilising force were it not for the fact that everywhere he finds it co-opted for purposes that have precious little to do with the common good. Making a journey in a lift more relaxing, easing the stress of the shopping experience and luring people towards a purchase do not seem to him to be the hallmarks of civilisation. Paul finds much to rejoice at in the way technology has made music available to so many but calls for a vigilance in the easy assumption that all music is good.