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The "Magic" of Music: Archaic Dreams in Romantic Aesthetics and an Education in Aesthetics
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The “Magic” of Music:
Archaic Dreams in Romantic Aesthetics and an Education in Aesthetics

O, then I close my eyes to all the strife of the world—and withdraw quietly into the land of music, as into the land of belief, where all our doubts and our sufferings are lost in a resounding sea. . . .1

Music serves many different functions in human life, accompanying everyday activities such as working, shopping, or watching TV, as well as creating an individual world of sounds in which to relax, to enjoy life, or just to escape into one's dreams. Tia DeNora describes this personal use of music as a technology for the self and quotes Mireille, a contract cleaner, who thinks that "everybody should listen to music. It helps you to be calm, relaxed, to see your life differently."2

This desire to change minds or moods and perhaps to be personally transformed by music also motivates adolescents to listen to their music giving them a strong feeling of self-identity and helping to relieve boredom, get through difficult times, or reduce tension.3 Although this obviously everyday use of music is usually different from the life-changing strong experiences with music which Robert Panzarella4 or Alf Gabrielsson5 investigate in their research, it nevertheless shows the natural human desire to use music to transform emotions or experience life more intensively. Certainly, adolescents do have different kinds [End Page 77] of intensive and even ecstatic experiences with music; for example, while attending a rock concert with its pseudo-religious implications, or a Friday night dance party with friends, or while making music in a band. Gabrielsson quotes the description of a young woman, attending an outdoor concert of Prince:

One feels so free somehow. At concerts one can dance, jump, scream and sing as much as one wants. You are like a part of it all, not just a spectator. Throughout the whole concert the audience was in total ecstasy. It was only one thing that mattered: the music! You are filled with the wonderful feeling that everything is all right, that you are living only for what is happening 'right now.' You are in a way 'intoxicated with joy." . . . You don't think about what you are doing. You do what you feel like, without even thinking about it.6

This desire for intensive or even ecstatic experiences through music is not only an aspect of individual life, it is also an important issue in the history of music and aesthetics from ancient times. One origin of music and art can be found in the relationship of music with religion and ritual, using sound's emotional and ecstatic power to connect the world of human beings and the sacred. Music as magic and a means of ecstasy was a frequent conceptualization in ancient Egypt, as well as in Greece, in the rites of ancient Celts and early Christians, and also in non-Western religions today.7 Priests or shamans among the Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, and West-African tribes use the emotional power of music to evoke trance in their contemporary practices.

Unfortunately, the aesthetics of Western European art music, especially since the eighteenth century, tends to eliminate this sensual "magic"8 of music only to replace an ecstatic way of experiencing music with a more intellectual approach. The idea of absolute music or the aesthetics of formalism attempts to establish a "pure" approach to listening without feeling, imagination, or sensuality. It is a claim to elitism which might be one reason why it is difficult for students to be affected by Western European art music, since it appears to be far away from their own world of intensive music experience. Not only the way of listening and performing Western European art music, but also the music itself may prevent students from further involvement in "classical" music and having the kind of intensive experiences their "own" music offers them. If a goal of music education is not only to involve students in art music but also to deepen and enhance their lives through aesthetic experiences, it may be reasonable to start with their musical experiences and to...