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Harmony and Discord: The Dual Influence of Music on Society

Have you ever seen the Pixar-Disney movie, Soul? Joe, the protagonist, is a middle school band teacher with a deep passion for jazz. His life hasn't gone as planned, but when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he discovers the meaning of having a soul. In the movie, Joe shows moments of musical creativity as "in the zone" when playing the piano. Similarly, when I play the piano or viola, I feel the same way Joe does. Even when I listen to music, I enter a state of flow.

Music, the universal language that speaks to the soul, is a powerful force in all of our lives. It accompanies us through moments of joy and sorrow, and its rhythms often guide our actions. Yet, the influence of music extends far beyond our imaginations, emotions, and dancing feet. It shapes society, both for the better and for the worse.

The Positive Impact of Music

Research has indicated that when we listen to music, our brains produce dopamine, leading to an increase in our overall happiness.

Music has the remarkable ability to uplift, heal, and inspire, enriching the lives of individuals and society. Here are some of the ways:

1. Healing and Therapy: Music can be a powerful source of comfort for people dealing with mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Be it the calming tones of classical music, the invigorating beat of drums, or the passionate expressions of jazz, music therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for many mental health issues.

2. Social Change and Activism: Music has played a powerful role in history as a tool of social transformation. From Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit" to the 1985 song, “We Are The World”, iconic songs have been used to rally the masses in support of civil rights or unity. Today, musicians continue to use their creative power to bring attention to social issues and inspire people to take action.

3. Education and Cognitive Development: Music education is beneficial to young minds, aiding in the development of memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills. A comprehensive music program in schools can promote creativity and stimulate intellectual growth in students, creating a more well-rounded individual.

4. Building Communities: Music has the remarkable ability to bring people together, regardless of their backgrounds. From music festivals to concerts, and even informal jam sessions, music creates a sense of togetherness and solidarity. Music can be an integral part of many cultural celebrations and religious ceremonies, creating a strong sense of connection and unity between people.


The Dark Side of Music

While music can have the power to lift and motivate us, some music can be detrimental, especially when it promotes violence, substance abuse, and sexism. Here are a few examples of music's darker impacts:

1. Violence and Aggression: Some musical genres, like heavy metal and hip-hop/rap, have faced scrutiny for lyrics that appear to celebrate violence and aggression. While research on the link between aggressive music and real-life violence is certain, there are concerns that it may intensify aggression in many people.

2. Substance Abuse: Songs that glorify drug and alcohol misuse, which are common in hip-hop and rock music, can have the effect of normalizing these activities. This can lead to serious problems, such as substance abuse and addiction, particularly among younger people who are exposed to this type of music.

3. Materialism and Hedonism: Pop music often promotes materialism and hedonism, suggesting that wealth and pleasure should be the primary objectives. Famous figures in these genres can have a large influence on public values and attitudes, with the promotion of material wealth and self-gratification being particularly evident.

4. Negative Body Image: The entertainment industry frequently promotes unrealistic body ideals. The pressure to conform to these standards, often perpetuated by pop stars and music videos, can lead to body image issues and unhealthy behaviors, particularly among young people.


The Influence of Music: A Complex Web

The question remains: does music truly control human behavior? For me, the answer is complex and depends on each individual. 

Music has a powerful effect on how people think, feel, and behave. It can evoke emotions, shape attitudes, and guide actions. However, it is important to remember that music is just one of the many factors that influence human behavior, both on an individual and societal level.

I believe music does not directly cause someone to engage in violent or abusive behavior, but it can act as an amplifier for existing tendencies. The connection between music and behavior is complex and depends on a variety of personal, social, and cultural factors, making it difficult to see a clear cause and effect.

Yet, while artists with significant platforms should be mindful of the messages they convey, we, as a society, have to understand the effects that music can have on us, for good or bad. It is important to maintain an open-minded outlook towards music, as it is a reflection of our society and the values and emotions that are shared between all of us, but music shouldn’t control or influence our behavior to do badly in our world. Music holds a mirror to the values, feelings, and actions of the audience and of individual creators. Our challenge is to use that reflection to construct a better world.


Photo credit: Marius Masalar/Unsplash


Edited by: Anwen Venn








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