The Music of Communal Groups

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the soul lives, thinks and invents.”
- Ludwing van Beethoven, 1810

Music and the community have long been interconnected. The group-based nature of music and music performance has made it a natural selection for communities across history to foster connections and celebrate the cohesion of a group. Integral to the concepts celebrated by Utopian communities, performance unites a society and assists the society in fulfilling their quests for spiritual enlightenment.

For some utopias, like Roycroft, Oneida, and Chautauqua, music plays a somewhat secondary role. It is still an important part of community life – used for leisure and diversion and providing members with entertainment and a cultural education. However, it does not greatly differ from pastimes of others in mainstream society. In these kinds of societies, music is used as a tool of unification. It may not have been composed, or even performed, by the society – yet it connects the group as a members of an audience. The joint appreciation for the art form is the method of attachment, leading the group feel that it speaks to their values. Despite the ranking of music within these various communities, most still possessed an emphasis on music education. From nurturing children to one day participate in community ways, to adult piano lessons imparting diversion and discipline of strict practice, music cannot be separated from the values of community life.

For others, such as the Shakers and the Maverick, music plays an integral part in the function of the community. Music is not only performed, but it is written. These communities produced new contributions to the cannon of Western music - because expressing themselves through music is how they fulfill their particular Utopian ideals. As the Shakers and the Maverick illustrated, the potential of new music is always relevant. Creating new interpretations and manipulations of sound is just as important as finding meaning in the critical works of European masters.

While each community is incredibly unique, their relationship with music boils down to the accessibility of the art form and its ability to represent identity. Since the understanding of words is not required to comprehend many forms music, emotional participation is unlimited, transcending the boundaries of language and education. Beethoven was right - the power of a melody, performed by instruments or the human voice, enacts an emotional response that cannot be replicated through text. Music is not static. It can be listened to and performed by thousands of different groups, producing a different interpretive meaning each time. The emotional reaction to music is based in the way that melody connects with our memories and personal experiences. It is this process that connects a piece of music to a group identity and helps the utopian society feel secure, affirmed, and inspired in their quest for a better life.

Little Journeys: Music at Roycroft

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Music at Chautauqua

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Musical Maverick

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Music at Oneida

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