How Musical Is Man By John Blacking

analytical Essay
636 words
636 words

“How Musical is Man?” was published in 1974. This book was written by John Blacking, a musician turned social anthropologist. His goal in writing this ethnography, and several other papers during this same time period, was to compare the experience of music-making that takes place within different cultures and societies throughout the world. In this book, he discusses and describes the musicology of the Venda people in South Africa. Though he does go to Africa to research and learn about the Venda people and their music, he specifically states that his book is “not a scholarly study of human musicality” (ix), but rather it is a summary (written from his point of view), which is both expressive and entertaining, of several different issues and ideas that he has seemingly been contemplating for some time. The book is divided into four chapters: 1) Humanly Organized Sound, 2) Music in Society and Culture, 3) Culture and Society in Music, and 4) Soundly Organized Humanity. In chapter one, Blacking discusses the analysis of sound. He begins by describing music as humanly organized sound. His overarching theme is that “the function of tones in relation to each other cannot be explained adequately as part of a closed system” (30). In other words, music can’t be analyzed simply by one set of rules. This is because every single culture has a different system that they use to structure and compose their music. In order to adequately analyze a society’s music we have to study their “system.” We must learn what music means to them. Then, and only then, can we accurately and completely analyze what a particular type or piece of music means to a particular society and culture. In chapter two, Blacking discusses the social scope of music. He... ... middle of paper ... ... people. Either that, or he’s talking about music having the precise meaning to one people or culture as it does to another. If this is what he is trying to convey, his belief may be accurate. Otherwise, I feel that his writing is impartial and unbiased. I believe that my understanding of the Venda people has most definitely increased. This is primarily because I was not even aware of this particular group of people prior to reading Blacking’s work. I think it is of utmost interest that the Venda focus so much on music and understanding it. I was exposed to music throughout my childhood and teenage years, and well into my adult life. Even to this day, music is a huge part of who I am and my daily experiences. And to this day, I hold the same belief as the Venda, which is that understanding music is fundamental to the experience of a enjoyable and meaningful life.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that john blacking's "how musical is man?" was written in 1974 to compare the experience of music-making within different cultures and societies throughout the world.
  • Explains that blacking's book is divided into four chapters: humanly organized sound, music in society and culture, culture and society in music, and soundly organised humanity.
  • Analyzes how blacking discusses the social scope of music in chapter two. he states that venda music is no less complex in structure than european music.
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