Music, The Litmus Test For An Era

1911 words - 8 pages

A Litmus test is method that chemists use to find out specific chemical properties of a solution. Its results tell the chemist whether the solution in question is of acid or basic pH. This might not sound all that significant, seeing as though it does not give any deep incite to what the solution might contain or the chemical structure or properties of said solution, but it does allow the chemist to know exactly how that particular type of solution will react with other solutions. Well, this same type of theory can be used when thinking about music. Over the ages, many different types of musical expression have been used to describe an individual or groups emotional state of mind. In the same context of the Litmus test, if one was to dissect the different types of music that were produced in a particular time, it would be possible to get an idea of the overall attitudes of the people creating that music. Again, like the Litmus Test, it would not necessarily reveal exactly what a particular family might have been doing on a particular day, but it allows the listener to have an idea of the overall interaction between the way life was going and how those that were living it reacted to it.

It is easy to just "hear" music, but more often than not, we don't actually "listen" to what the music is telling us. It is much easer to "hear" the music of previous eras and generations, than it is "hear" the music of today. Only when we look back at the whole picture, of everything that was going on at a particular time, is when we can understand what the music is describing. This fact holds true in many different venues, but of some of the most prominent musical eras that come to mind when considering this concept include the "Gilded Age" (1878 - 1889), where millions of foreign cultures combined in America to create the "melting pot," The "Jazz age" of the "roaring twenties" (1914 - 1928), and probably the most prominent, the era of the "Great Depression," or "Dustbowl effect" (1929 - 1945).

When we take a comprehensive look back in time, to the "Gilded Age" of America, we find that the growth of industry and a wave of immigrants marked this period in American history. With the massive wave of immigrants coming into the United States, came music and tradition from their homelands. This early origins of "folk" music is a perfect example of the litmus test, in that it can give the listener an idea of where the songs originated, in addition to giving an idea of some of the struggles and hardships that were faced when leaving home and coming to this new country with nothing but hope for a brighter future. Some prime examples of theses type of expression can be seen in some of the magnificent Scottish/Irish ballads of the time. Another huge influence during this time was the insurgence of classical compositions from Europe, as well as the African American influence of "Ragtime." Even though it was condemned by some at the time as vulgar, ragtime formed a...

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