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Language, Music, and the BrainA Mysterious Relationship$
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Michael A. Arbib

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262018104

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262018104.001.0001

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A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Significance of Music and Dance to Culture and Society

A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Significance of Music and Dance to Culture and Society

Insight from BaYaka Pygmies

Chapter:
(p.45) 2 A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Significance of Music and Dance to Culture and Society
Source:
Language, Music, and the Brain
Author(s):

Jerome Lewis

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262018104.003.0002

The concepts associated with what English speakers recognize as music and dance are not shared cross-culturally. In some societies there are no general terms for music and dance; instead, specific names describe different performances that involve music and dance. In other societies the same word is used to refer to music-making, singing, dancing, and often to ceremony or ritual as well. Despite such differences, every social group has its music, and this music is somehow emblematic of a group’s identity. This chapter explores how this observation can be explained from a cross-cultural perspective: What do music and dance do for human social groups? Why are music and dance so universally central to a group’s self-definition? It is suggested that participation in music and dance activities provides experiences of aesthetic principles which in turn may influence “foundational cultural schemas” affecting multiple cultural domains: from cosmology to architectural style, from hunting and gathering techniques to political organization. Such dance and musical participation inculcates culture not as a text or set of rules, but as a profound aesthetic orientation. Foundational cultural schemas may thus be better understood as aesthetic orientations that influence our everyday decisions and behavior by seducing us to conform to them using our aesthetic sense, enjoyment of harmony, desire to cooperate, curiosity, and pleasure-seeking propensities. Musical foundational schemas may have extraordinary resilience, and this resilience is likely due to their special aesthetic, incorporative, adaptive, and stylistic qualities that ensure continuity with change. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   music: cross-cultural comparisons, dance: cross-cultural comparisons, ritual, group identity, foundational cultural schemas

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