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          Music Title
Author Marion Jacosbon
Institutional Affiliation New York University

Everywhere you go, there it is.


Even when we are not listening, music is around us. It blares from radios and headphones, kicks off sporting events, energizes crowds at demonstrations, and intrudes on our shopping experiences. Just now, a tune tinkling from a passing ice-cream truck interrupted the writing of these words. The commercial marketing of recorded music has been a fact of life since the early 20th century. Its inescapable presence reminds us how music shapes almost every moment of our waking lives.


The daily barrage of sound makes it easy to forget that music has amazing powers as well. To demonstrate this, think of the last film you saw and enjoyed. Try to imagine viewing it without the music. Is something missing? Now, try to imagine attending a wedding, a funeral, or birthday party where no one is singing, nor is any kind of music being played or performed. You’ll find that not only is it impossible to imagine such an event taking place, but that something about the quality of the experience seems to fade—as if you were seeing a color film in black-and-white.


But music is more than a component of other kinds of activity. When we delve deeper into even one kind of sound that surrounds us on a daily basis and grapple with its meaning, we get a unique opportunity to travel through other kinds of experiences and perspectives. This kind of inquiry—studying music through the ears and eyes of the people who make and consume music—is called ethnomusicology. You can use some of the ethnomusicologist’s tools to uncover the historical and cultural significance of any musical event you may encounter.


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