The Mystery of Music: An Exploration Centered on the Lives of Thirty Ancient Musicians

TitleThe Mystery of Music: An Exploration Centered on the Lives of Thirty Ancient Musicians
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsHolmes, LM
Number of Pages346
PublisherCEK Publishing
CityBurlington, Vermont

Questions about the origin and relevance of human musicality have fascinated many of the greatest thinkers in history, including Confucius, Plato, Rousseau, and Darwin. This book is a novel approach to the subject.

The text is built around brief biographies, or ‘profiles,’ of thirty musicians from the distant past. These musicians lived between approximately 2500 BCE and 1500 CE at locations that span half the globe. They came from a variety of social classes, and the group includes both men and women.

The biographies provide a unique glimpse into the geographical spread and variety of ancient musical life. They form the basis for an exploration of the ‘why,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ of our attraction to music.

As described in this book, ancient musical activities resembled those of the present. Some examples: The Mesopotamian princess Enheduanna composed hymns to her gods. The Greek composer Pindar sold songs about athletes. The Roman emperor Nero got an ego boost by singing on stage. The Arabian songstress Jamila performed erotic music for her ecstatic fans. The European troubadour Marcabru used music to criticize upper-class immorality. The blind Japanese lutenist Akashi no Kakuichi composed a massive and influential musical war epic.

​Present-day musicians carry out a number of social, political, religious, entertainment, and other functions in society. Information from the profiles demonstrates that ancient musical practice involved carrying out the same musical functions as at present. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first time that such an assertion has been based on firm historical evidence. This evidence of constancy through different historical stages adds support to the view that human musicality is a genetically determined trait, rather than a characteristic that is acquired from the individual’s cultural context.

The text reviews and comments on evolutionary theories concerning the acquisition of Musicality. 'Musical entrainment,' which has recently received a great deal of attention from evolutionary scientists, is singled out for special consideration. Examples taken from the profiles and elsewhere help to clarify this rather obscure concept.

The book is introduced by an historical overview of the ideas expressed by philosophers, scientists, and others about music. Appendices to the text establish the relation of this study to traditional ethnomusicology and describe the anthropological framework that has been employed. More than 400 bibliographic references and a detailed index complete the presentation. [!]

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