Last week my Psychology of Music class had a discussion on the purpose of music. This was in response to a claim made by Charles Eagle, Jr., the author of the first chapter in the book we are using, the Handbook of Music Psychology. Eagle claims that society will be able to utilize the healing abilities of music once we universally accept two things: 1) the purpose of music is for human consumption, and 2) the main component of music is pitch. Eagle, a music therapist, believes that in the future, doctors will be able to administer electronic music composed for specific ailments.
Most of the students in the class felt that music is meant for consumption, whether by an audience, performers, or the composer. But one student pointed out that some people believe that the purpose of music is to praise their god. There is a whole swath of music history that backs up this belief, from the birth of Gregorian chant as a means of remembering religious passages to the papal edict mandating the musical reforms of Palestrina to make sung text more intelligible. Many composers have believed that their gifts were divinely given for the praise of their god, though most also did compose secular music as well. The student who brought up this viewpoint came to my office later to continue the discussion. He works at a Christian camp in the summers, and saw how music could draw troubled kids into the fold. But he said that he would often see the kids humming the music later, with no recollection of the attached religious lyrics. Were those kids still using the music to worship, or were they consuming the music for entertainment? During class, I also offered the possibility that even worship music could be regarded as being consumed by the particular congregation. The consumption is not intended for entertainment, but rather for religious enlightenment or to boost the ability to praise.
The main conclusion made in class was that there were many different purposes of music, depending upon the composer/performer’s and the listener’s desires. So I guess Eagle will have to wait longer for his prescription headache music.