The Essential Supplement

Last week Ted Gioia posted another portion of his book Music to Raise the Dead about ‘the power of song as a change agent in human life’. He makes a fascinating point, and although I would steer clear of ascribing agency to non-animate forces,* I support vigorously the argument that lyrical expression richly integrated with musical expression communicates much more forcefully than bare words.

Add to that another point about which Gioia has been writing, namely the importance of ritual. Again, I disagree with him on many points (I’m unconvinced about the whole ‘dopamine culture’ discourse, for starters). But Gioia is right on target when he argues in favour of ritual providing the context in which meaning reaches deeper, connects in tighter networks, extends into the past and the future.

The further, deeper, tighter, longer meaning reaches, the greater its power to us. The more beautiful, harmonious — the more readily it taps into our desire — the greater the traction it exerts. Obviously that may affect us negatively or positively, but it will affect us the more strongly. Under the best circumstances, the meaning in which we participate will align with ideals that match with commendable aspirations, and the effect will be encouraging, uplifting. But as A Clockwork Orange illustrated to us from years ago, the opposite is possible too.

* Now I say it, I suppose I’m open to some careful ascription of agency. I’ll have to revisit this aspect of what I think about Gioia’s point.

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