Random Thoughts On Music And Politics

bassFor The October Rice Bowl Journals Collaboration Project

Music, as an art form, has always reflected life, especially Politics. And the notion that art imitates life holds true when expressing a need for change, revolution, and in achieving progress.

Music tends to reflect the times, whether good or bad, whether prosperous or poverty-stricken, whether calm or turbulent… musicians from Beethoven to Bob Marley have written music about change, revolution and progress, for the betterment of humankind… for the ideals of freedom and liberty.

Somewhere Between Left And Right

My wife and I were talking politics yesterday, as I’m sure many people have been doing because of the Presidential race and upcoming elections on November 4th. She mentioned how Obama is a leftist and a socialist. Of course, McCain is further to the right-wing on the political scale. But, if we think about politics as if it were on “a scale” we see that there has to be a balance where right-wing and left-wing politics balance evenly in the center.

I personally see myself as a moderate (somewhere in the middle) who leans slightly to the left of center. I strongly dislike labels, but I guess if I would have to identify myself in the political spectrum, I am Liberal in the sense that I favor a departure from social norms in order to progress and transform, while still holding on to more traditional and moral thinking and customs. Would that be considered a Moderate Liberal? Or Traditional Radical? Okay, see why I dislike labels?

How Traditional Is Traditional?

Sometimes though, I wonder if this sort of desciption of the entire political spectrum is accurate. For example, in many respects I am left of center with regards to my political leanings. Leftists seek change from the current establishment, while Right-wingers seek to uphold or bring society and government back to more traditional systems.

When you think about it, what IS traditional?

Obviously, being traditional relates to the recent and current traditions of society and government, BUT… we all know that “change” is the only constant, right? All things change. And ideally, change happens for the better in an idealistic sense. So, what is considered traditional now is actually a state achieved from a change that had occured in the past.

Our only security is our ability to change.John Lilly

Looking back at the beginnings of the United States, we see that this country was founded on a dramatic departure from the status quo, which was, domination and rule by the British Empire. And it took a violent American Revolution to break free of then “traditional” British rule in order to bring about change from being the British colonies to becoming an independent nation. Could our founding fathers have been radicals? Well, patriotic Americans might not see it that way, but in reality those patriots back then were the radicals of their era, and they eventually sought and achieved a dramatic change.

Music In Relation To Politics and Society

Music, can directly be perceived as reflecting society and culture and whatever the current political trends of the day. Jazz music in America had evolved from Tin Pan Alley and New Orleans marching bands to Free Jazz and the Avante Garde. During the 60s, for instance, Jazz music took a radical turn to more freer styles that rejected traditional elements of Jazz for a freer expression. It reflected the times when there was much political change as we witnessed protests to the Viet Nam War, assassinations, and there were cultural changes like the Hippie Movement, free sex and free experimentation with drugs and psychedelics.

keith jarrett
Jazz Pianist, Keith Jarrett, Has Revolutionized The Art of Solo Piano

The Revolution of Jazz Music

On another level, you could compare Classical Music to Jazz. Classical being more traditional and structured, whereas Jazz Music departs from structured forms of music to become more improvisational in nature. What could be considered a balance of both radical and traditional aspects in Jazz Music is the treatment of the Great American Songbook, those standard songs that Jazz musicians use as a foundation to improvise over. The structure of the chord progressions of a song is that of traditional foundation, and improvising over that structure is what sets the music free and changes the music, or transforms it. And in making that change, it becomes something different. Something new.

Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps

But on the other hand, Classical Music itself had progressed from traditional forms of Mozart and Haydn, to Beethoven and Romanticism, and on toward the Modern movement where traditional harmony and rhythmic structures were replaced with more chromatic, dissonant forms. In some respects, Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre Du Printemps” (The Right of Spring), was the musical equivalent to the American Revolution, and it DID cause a riot when it was first performed in Paris at the start of the 20th century.

The Reality of Transformation, Good or Bad

Today’s Pop Music has gone through similar transformations, whether good or bad, and has changed considerably over the years. And so it goes with Politics and Government. New legislation is passed every year, and there is always a “change” for a better system, whether one is a traditional conservative or a liberal radical.

In reality, we all seek change for the better. But we may differ on how fast and how often we want change to occur. Of course, throughout the course of history, change has occured for better or for worse…

My personal feeling with regards to politics in general is that, if there is a strong need for change, the people will naturally desire to see that change happen, if the current conditions warrant that change. What people perceive as radical, liberal change is dependent on how traditional, or conservative their attitudes are with regards to that change.

But, the fact of the matter is, change WILL occur, because change is the only thing that is permanent. Music as a whole has been a direct reflection of change in society, government, and moral standards. What’s truly important is that people are allowed the freedom to progress and change to their own benefit as well as the good of society and country.

Beethoven’s Fifth, A Musical Revolution

beethovenAs I listen to Beethoven’s fifth symphony, I realize just how much his music reflects the political change of those times. As I hear the open strings pound out those famous first notes… “dot dot dot dash…” I realize too just how revolutionary his music was at the time. No one had heard anything quite like it, and it was a distinct musical revolution all by itself. It challenged the traditional modes of music, just as it freed the composer to become more creative and expressive, and the listener to be exposed to new forms of Music. In the end, Beethoven’s Music is a true revolution for Freedom, and the freedom to change…

It just makes me realize that change itself is the only remaining constant.

Hopefully, amidst the revolution of change on Wall Street and Capitol Hill, amidst the turmoil and negativity of our times… we will all experience a positive change, as we all struggle for a better way of life…

Things do not change; we change.
Henry David Thoreau



Carlos Rull

Carlos Rull is a musician living in the San Diego area. His interests include Yoga, Eastern Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and Gardening. He plays drums, piano, and composes New Age & Ambient music, and his albums are available on iTunes and Amazon.com.

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