Sunday, August 17, 2008

Talent pt. 2

This is more of a continuation of my previous post. It always strikes me as funny how I post or talk about something and within a day or two something related comes up in the classroom or in conversation. Anyway, there was an open house at the college here in Japan and one of the students was a high school junior. After the lesson I asked her if she planned on perusing a career in music. She told me she wanted to, but didn't think she had any talent. She then asked me:

Q: Do you think most people have talent?

A: Yes, I think they do. Of course everybody has different degrees of musical talent, just like everybody has different degrees of the natural ability to, let's say, throw darts or swim the backstroke. Regardless, just about anyone can, at least sort of do both these things and would get better at them with a little practice. Why? Because these skills are part of our genetic makeup, without them, it would have been difficult to survive as a race. We have needed these skills since the dawn of man, throwing things at enemies and perspective food and swimming away from saber tooth tigers. That is why you can teach an infant to swim (like on the Nirvana CD jacket). Even to a one year old, it is somewhat natural. We have been genetically engineered over the millenniums to do these things with some level of proficiency. So what does this have to do with music? I'll get to it, give me a minute.

Think about it (as I had this high school student do), Is there any place in the world that doesn't have some kind of music? Is music not somehow connected with most occasions, in all cultures? It sure is. How long have we been messing around with music? Let's see:

2008 - Music is everywhere.

How about 2000 years ago - Hmm.. Buddhism is getting its start as well as Christianity. It is pretty easy to imagine people making music.
Matter of fact, Sumerian notated music was found dating back to 800 BC.

2000 years earlier than that, 2000 BC - The great Pyramids are standing. Yes, there was music. Archaeologists found stone carvings of a guitar looking instrument. There are signs of tonal music everywhere. Ancient documents show that music was alive and well in Persia and India around this time. There is evidence of harps and flutes dating as far back as 4,000 BC. And there is no doubt, people were beating on drums way before there was any kind of tonal music.

10,000 BC - Agriculture was taking place. Do you think people were making music? Considering they had figured out how to reap and sow crops, it is a good bet that they were making some kind of music. Likely singing and dancing at least to make it rain during droughts.

50,000 BC - Yup, music. How do I know? Because a
Neanderthal flute was found in what is now known as Yugoslavia and it is between 50,000 and 80,000 years old. And get this: it plays (at least a partial) major scale!?! Go figure, Neanderthals, had the same tools and abilities to play Bach or the Beatles.

Homo-Sapians showed up over 300,000 years ago and there are remnants of wooden tools and weapons. How likely do you think that they were also making drums?

Anyway, the point I'm getting at is that humans have always made music. And I bet we were doing it before speaking and definitely doing it long before there was any written languages. And it has been being done all over the globe. Why? Why was it necessary for us to make music?

It is safe to conclude that making music was a skill deemed necessary by evolution. Music was not just a fun thing, it was vital for our survival as a race. If it wasn't an evolutionary requirement, it would have disappeared at one time or another and certainly would not be practiced virtually everywhere around the globe, throughout the millenniums. Thus, the ability is part of our very being, a trait we have passed on to our children. It is in our genes. But why, why would musical ability be such an important trait? There are many different theories (some explained in Daniel Levitin's great book "This is your Brain on Music").

One theory is that men have used musical ability to get a spouse. The way birds sing. Having musical ability would mean that time has been dedicated to musical pursuits. And having this time to spare would also mean that the man displaying these musical skills would also have the financial abilities to not be working all the time thus guaranteeing a safe a prosperous lifestyle for wife and children. Ancient man had been using music to get girls just like I was trying to do when I started guitar lessons at twelve years old.

Being able to dance would prove one agile, thus proving the dancer a good hunter as well. Ancient girls were saying to themselves; "Check out them dance moves, bet he can bring back some meat for dinner!"

Music would prove important to pass on ones peoples history. If you didn't have a written language, you could teach your kids history lessons and folklore in music. Just like my daughter learned the alphabet song.

Music could motivate people to get things done. The whole village out beating drums and chanting before a big hunt or tribal war.

Music could bring one closer to God or the Spirits. Most religions use music this way, from Gospel music to Buddhist rituals. How about the Rain Dance?

The bottom line is that we've been making music for as long as we've been around. Therefore it has been part of our evolution and thus are brains have been designed to be able to do it. We all have the ability to make music. Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to forget these musical skills somewhat. When we sing loud as children in a place deemed inappropriate for such behaviour, or parents and teachers chastise us. When we jump and dance, we are told to calm down. We slowly lose the ability to express ourselves through music and dance. We are all born with perfect pitch, it is a necessary skill to learn language. But we unlearn this skill as well unless we actively participate in music by four.

But the good news is that musical skill is all part of us as human beings. We just need to locate it. It is buried deeper in some of us than others, but it is an ability we all have. How could it not be there, we have been making music as a race for millenniums. So my answer to the question, do all people have talent? Yes, we were designed to make music.

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