Is There A Link Between Ethics And Music?I think that there is a dramatic link between music and morality (as a subject to explore and represent). To do so is an opportunity, not a necessity which Aristotle assumes. Morality here refers to intrinsic responsibilities in relations between people, aware of each other, and connects to values.
The musical environment and tools give you rich, deep multidimensional power. Music (with or without lyrics) provides perhaps more powerful tools to deal with morality than language alone.
I’m closer to the philosopher/psychologist John Dewey on this issue than to Aristotle – Dewey’s aesthetics (Art As Experience) is built around art as modeling and refining experience “for its own sake,” to make visible the beauty of its underlying craft and design principles.( Think of the beauty of Calder’s balanced, playful mobiles.) There is still an Aristotelian element here – art as imitation of (human) nature.
Some effective musical examples of dealing with morality and values are:
--Charles Ives’ excerpted setting of “Paracelsus,” which is Robert Browning’s dramatic poem about the need for a moral outlook in the life of the poet.
--Wagner’s Ring Cycle, where everyone’s deep flaws of greed are sequentially triggered by temptation. The orchestra carries as much weight and voice as the singers.
--Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “Atom, Heart, Mother,” about values, alienation, and intergenerational stress.
As an aside, let me mention that I carried on an informal music research listening project (involving friends and new associates) periodically over roughly a 20-year period: I musically programmed and contoured a series of 175 different 90-minute (or-more) sequences of stylistically eclectic music tracks that, together in impact, dealt with values and morali
ty in different historical, philosophical, and cultural settings.
I wanted to see how aesthetically effectively I could create music programs simply by concatenating music of diverse genre, artist, and mood (usually without commentary from me) in a somewhat spiral/recurring fashion across a long time canvas of 90-360 minutes, intended for multiple listening sessions. I found I was indeed able to do this successful – some listeners listened repeatedly to the same program tape or CD in their car or at home, and gave copies to family or friends.
Some programs I produced were lighter, and some were heavier. My use of the music medium definitely aided me in confidently expressing and effectively representing difficult subjects, that I sometimes could not have fully treated in writing.
Three of the music programs were about 9/11, during the several months following the attack. These and seven other programs were broadcast remotely on Estonia Radio, accompanied by my commentary in English. One of the 9/11 programs, “Winter Garden” included poetry from three sources – American, Estonian, and Russia. The programs as a whole were very effective, and left a lasting impression on the society’s cultural memory.