Exploring the Spiritual and Moral Light and Dark Sides of Musical Experience and Appreciation

Authors: David Carr
Publication:  Philosophy of Music Education Review
Publication volume & date:  v. 18(2), Fall 2010.
Abridged Absrtract:

Moral Significance has been attributed to music from antiquity: for example, both Plato and Aristotle made much of the power of music to influence and shape moral character. However, it would also seem often assumed that music and musical experience have some kind of spiritual significance or value for human development. The present paper sets out to explore this possibility further by asking: first, where it is possible to make sense of spiritual development in a non-reductive way… and second, what sort of qualities capacities, or dispositions might distinctively spiritual qualities be?

In this article, Mr. Carr raises some interesting questions about music, spirituality, and education. Unfortunately, he offers few answers or original opinions. Though he never blatantly says morality must have a Christian basis, Carr uses criticism of what he calls “un-tethered spirituality” to espouse the belief that true spirituality and morality arises from a religious context, though he does little to substantiate this claim. Instead, he argues that un-tethered spirituality “gives rise to some very awkward questions about how… [it] might be conceived or apprehended.” The tacit argument here is that a Christian-based definition of spirituality is, if nothing else, easier to manage. Although this may be true to some degree (however, let’s remember that there are many interpretations of “Christian values”), it does not mean that a Christian-based definition of morality should be the yardstick by which all of humanity (or music) should be measured. After all, how moral is it to impose one’s religious beliefs on others? The simple fact that secular spirituality raises thorny philosophical issues does invalidate it.

Mr. Carr also discusses issues of intention versus interpretation, such as in the music of Wagner, and explores why he believes the Rolling Stones are “the very epitome of spoiled middle-class white boys using what is at least an honest (albeit limited) musical idiom to strike self-indulgent poses.”

This is a thought-provoking, although obviously biased and rambling essay on spirituality and music.

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