So Easy a Caveman Can Do It
No, this is not another obnoxious Geico car insurance ad. I just started reading a book which, from having thus far read only the first two chapters, seems quite fascinating, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origin of Music, Language, Mind, and Body (Harvard University Press, 2006) by Steven Mithen, Professor of Early Prehistory at Reading University in England.
While a self-professed non-musician (“I can neither sing in tune nor clap in rhythm. I am unable to play any musical instrument […] I’ve tried…and it is a deeply unpleasant experience for all involved.”), Mithen argues persuasively that proto-Homo sapiens already had well-developed musical abilities. (“Without music, the prehistoric past is just too quiet to be ignored.”) Here’s a real zinger, and mind you I’m still only on Chapter Two:
In traditional societies, song is often far more pervasive in every day life, and hence infant acquisition of musical knowledge may be far easier than it is in Western society.
Whereas, in the contemporary post-industrialized world…
[T]he majority of people will be familiar with a variety of musical styles, but will be far more limited when it comes to producing rather than listening. Few can compose a musical score and many (myself included) cannot hold a tune. Yet this again may be a product of current Western society rather than of the human condition at large: it may reflect the relative unimportance of music in Western educational systems and the rather elitist and formalized attitudes toward music that have arisen in consequence.
So, have we as a society evolved so much that we’ve managed to become too smart for music? Or is contemporary society’s overall neglect of music and music making as central components of life proof that we in fact are devolving?