Historically, almost every culture across time has independently created some form of music. Whether percussive, vocal, or instrumental, music has been a critical aspect of society. In some cultures, indigenous forms of music developed before language! While the tools used to create music and the overall sound of the music may differ, the role of music itself cannot be disputed.
Today, music is inescapable. In cars, on street corners, at events, we are constantly surrounded by it. (You are likely listening to something as you read this!) And, depending on location, specific types of music can act as social triggers that incite a particular behavior. For instance, call to mind a sporting event and the iconic ‘Charge’ theme that inevitably raises the audience to its feet. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of This Is Your Brain On Music, says that, “Music is and [always] was part of the fabric of everyday life, [...] a window on the essence of human nature.” Much in the way that viewing a play or watching a movie can provide some measure of cathartic release, listening to an emotionally-charged piece of music can neurologically trigger certain feelings. The six core emotions are universal and can be recognized cross-culturally, regardless of gender, age, or race. While the specific emotions triggered by a particular piece of music differ across cultures and, indeed, person-to-person, the range of emotional release is generally the same from one side of the world to the other.
Music, far from being cerebral and abstract, holds powerful storytelling capabilities. This can be seen from the American Western tradition of cowboy songs to European Gypsy folk dances to the spirit-narratives of the Gule Wamkulu, a Malawian secret society. Compare, from the Mid-Texas Symphony’s Concert No. 1, the jazz-inflected early 20th century city ambiance of George Gershwin; the American spirituals and optimism embodied in Dvorak’s Symphony 9; and the Star-Spangled Banner. Each represents a critical aspect of American culture and calls forth a range of different feelings, often uniting us as a people.
Similarly, in our upcoming Concert No. 2, a number of nationalistic works are featured. First, you will hear the Overture to the opera ‘The Bartered Bride’ by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. Best known for his tone poem cycle, Má Vlast, Smetana incorporates a number of folk structures into The Bartered Bride. Next, the program hops over the ocean to Argentina for ‘Estancia: Ballet Suite’ by Alberto Ginastera. Throughout his career, Ginastera utilized Argentine folk melodies and forms in his work, both by directly quoting them and by using the root ideas behind their structure. The Estancia Ballet Suite is rhythmically propulsive and four separate traditional dances, given additional layers through Ginastera’s unique style of instrumentation. Finally, the program returns to the Czech heartland with Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Considered one of the exemplars of the genre, the work incorporates both Dvorak’s heritage and his American influences.
Culture-to-culture, it is difficult to unite people. Languages and customs differ. Attitudes may seem muted or overly reactionary. But music can always be understood. It expresses a common humanity - as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of Mankind.”