Sometimes it can be a difficult question to answer. I remember asking my trigonometry teacher that question in high school. Every now and then, a music student will ask me such a question when we’re going over a challenging concept. I might be explaining the theory behind diminished 7ths and a student will politely ask, “Ms.”? Why do I need to know this?”
The other day, our family was listening to some classical radio in the car and I was explaining something about the instrumentation of the piece. My 7-year-old rolled his eyes and said, “Mo-om. I don’t need to know this.”
It is probably true that the specificity of the instrumentation of this piece wasn’t something he needed to know at the moment. However, familiarity with music history is important.
Why do we need to know about music history?
MUSIC IS THE LANGUAGE OF CULTURE
Music is a universal feature of the human experience. Yet each culture and society has its own style of music. When we study the music of cultures in the past (and cultures in the present) this gives us huge clues into what life and society was — or is — like, and how people felt about it.
For example, when we listen to and study music from the Baroque period in Europe, we learn the importance of patronage, the influence of the Church on what was composed, the emphasis on decorum. If we study music from ancient Africa, we learn about the importance of drums in their culture and how music was a form of communication between tribes.
When you study music and listen to different kinds of music, you’ll develop a vocabulary around music. You’ll also begin to reflect on your own particular tastes and learn to articulate them.
You might discover that you dislike classical opera because the vocals are too dramatic for you to enjoy. You might tell someone that “Claire de Lune” gives you goosebumps when you hear it because of the dissonant chords.
This ability to discuss music and appreciate different styles of music opens up doors for rich, fulfilling and new experiences. Connection with other people of similar interests and sharing musical experiences together become possibilities.
MUSIC HISTORY IS RELEVANT
It might be difficult for you to believe that what now plays on a classical music station was once the “pop music” of its time.
But the music of the past is still important today! Imagine attending a ballet of The Nutcracker without the music. Would it have the same meaning and nostalgia? Would it be as enjoyable without the familiarity and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s score?
Whether you spend a lot of time listening to rock and roll, jazz or hip-hop in your household, it was influenced by music and musicians of the past. Many current performers in the music industry have connections to classical music. They also likely studied a musical instrument before becoming a famous performer. (Check out Justin Bieber playing a little piano here)
There are plenty of ways that classical music makes its way into present day music. Groups like Kevin Olusola, Pentatonix and the Piano Guys combine classical inspiration with modern day rhythms and songs to create their breathtaking compositions.
Music of the past sets the framework for the music your family enjoys today. Studying music history helps you to both acknowledge and appreciate that connection, as well as understand the music evolution.