Music and Ritual

As some may know, one of my papers last semester dealt with describing film as a ritual activity and analyzing scores in that context.  My ideas are still very much a work in progress, but here are some thoughts I’ve been jotting down the last few days.

Music, Western music, especially classical music, used to be consumed in a primarily ritualized manner, i.e. the concert.  Recording technology changed that, but the process of listening to classical music at home still had ritualized tendencies.  Then along came the pop explosion, and more importantly, radio airplay.  The digestion of short, disposable songs made the music less valuable because much of the ritual was taken out of it.  It was less about the journey of the music, the piece moving the listener with it, then about the commercial viability of the single.
Album-oriented rock held onto some of the ritual elements.  The listener, to gain the full impact, had to sit, listen, digest.  It was about a ritual journey again.  Now once again, with iTunes and other similar services, we are again faced with a focus less on the whole and more with the catchy and disposable.

But will music as a listening ritual every really die?  The marketplace will always have it’s “pop.”  Folk music, lieder, etc. down through the centuries is a testament to the fact that for every mass, opera cycle, symphony there has always been the motet, madrigal, piano prelude, and Billie Jean.  But as long as individuals keep listening, and artists keep writing with the album as a conceptual whole, the ritual of listening will be around.  Whether in your car, your iPod on the bus, or on your favorite home stereo, people still treat these things as rituals.

But these are examples of ritual activity in which music is the focal point of the ritual.  What about rituals in which music is just a component?  What effect does music play?  How does it inform the ritual?  More to the point, how can film, television, video games fit within the scope of ritual activity and how does the musical score effect it?  Alter our perceptions?  And most importantly, why is seeing it within the context of the ritual process useful?

My primary thought is that, to my satisfaction, the question of why music is associated with such visual storytelling mediums has never been answered.  I believe that such an analysis through the ritual process can illuminate this question.

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