Plato's Views On Music
People have long been aware, it seems, of the power of music. Long ago we have philosophers such as Plato, expounding, in his work about his new utopian republic, on what modes or scales were suitable and which should be banned. He makes this rather fascinating statement about music in general;
"The introduction of novel fashions in music is a thing to beware of as endangering the whole fabric of society, whose most important conventions are unsettled by any revolutions in that quarter."
--Plato, The Republic (c.428 B.C.-c.347 B.C.)
It brings to mind Nazi Germany where the state controlled the art and it was all about the Arian Race. Also brings to mind Russia, under Stalin, where the state ran the media and a bad review could get you sent to a concentration camp or executed.
Dmitri Shostakovich was reputed to have slept downstairs with his bags packed so that, when the secret police came to get him, he wouldn’t wake up his family.
Now all of these are societies that could have used a little unsettling of their most important conventions and I think that Plato, unwittingly, hit the nail on the head as far as the definitions of what art and music are.
I daresay there has not been a society whose most important conventions did not need a little unsettling. Music and art are communication and they are nothing if they don’t cause people to come out of their conditioning and take a look at what is going on. When we used to study the blues, in school, they said it was a musical form innovated by the black slaves and was used to spread news. What news, we wondered? It was the news about the reality of their situation.
The status quo, in time, becomes an enslaving trap. Music should challenge the status quo. Music and art that doesn’t do this is, as Paul Simon says, ‘the sound of silence.' And thanks to Plato for defining what music and art should be.