Discussion of a Quote from Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Music and the Mind Quote

Discuss the following statement: "Music is a powerful instrument of education which can be used for good or ill, and we should ensure that everyone in our society is given the opportunity of participating in a wide range of different kinds of music." Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind, Harper Collins Publishers, London 1997, 48

Music has long been considered to be one of the greatest arts, and no one can deny how significant the role that music can play in our lives since it was developed in the very first beginning. However, the debate on whether music should be taught as part of education is always a controversial issue. Without doubt, music plays an important role in cultures across different countries. It has been proved that music is sometimes even much more powerful than languages because some scholars have verified that music is easier to be understood when we want to know other people’s culture and it has some permanent effects on people’s mind. This topic is of particular interest as I get the chance to discuss the connection between music and education as well as detailing problems which occur in music education in western countries as well as Taiwan. Moreover, some suggestion about how to ensure that people are given a great number of chances to access a diversified of music is also mentioned.

First and foremost, we must know what music is and understand how exactly it may have developed. In fact, it is not easy to affirm how music was formed initially as experts in the field have many different points of views with regard to this issue. It is believed that music once appeared in the Stone Age when primitive people found that they could use the fire to make the potteries and other utensils which developed into musical instruments. However, some advocates claim that music started from the nature due to the fact that primitive people were interested in wild animals’ sound. They tried very hard to understand their languages so they made the musical instruments in order to convey their meanings with each other. For instance, birds are highly considered to be the easiest creature to imitate because their tones are almost like melody. Although some group of people, for example, Bela Bartok’s (1881-1945) friend called Geza Revesz has held that the origin of music has nothing to do with birds because the music we know today is by far more complicated than birds’ sound, another interesting opinion held by other scholars is that music appeared earlier than languages while other linguists claim that music was formed after languages.

Although the origin of music can be a mystery to all the mankind and the debate will also last in the foreseeable future, the implicit meaning of music is worth discussing. Therefore, it is necessary to define the meaning of “good music”. Plato (429-347 B.C) is the best figure for defining the musical aesthetics in Greece period. He lived in the time when Sophists were rising. They promoted the individualism and relativism which led to the affectation not only in the music but also in the whole society. Plato was the person who criticized the sinking in art. Plato once said in his book called “The Republic” which reports Socrates saying that “Musical training is more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and the harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill- educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and natures, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar. ” Plato doesn’t oppose that all the decadent music should be eliminated from the societies. Instead, he presents the idea that people must not only judge whether the music is good or not by its shape, colors and melodies but the inner feeling it can bring to people, instead. In other words, we ought to care more about the inner effect of music - its order, measure, proportion, and harmony. Moreover, in Plato’s Utopia, the point for educating all people to learn music is to relieve the weary souls as well as to cultivate a love of music.

It is mentioned previously that music is indispensable in our lives since it has been included in child education in most countries. It helps people around the world have more chances to know each other and the cultures. People usually want to present their own cultures through their music. Positively speaking, people are more likely to approach different cultures if they have more opportunities to learn a variety of music. As we all know that music plays an important role in Western countries. Anthony Storr once said in his book, “Music and the Mind”, about the problem in Western countries. That is --- “Arts are luxuries rather than necessities. Those who do not appreciate music think that it has no significance other than providing ephemeral pleasure. Today, music is likely to be treated as an extra in the school curriculum which only affluent parents can afford, and which need not be provided for pupils who are not obviously ‘musical’ by nature.” It is slightly different from what Plato has supported in Pythagoras’ theory that music should be included in one of the seven subjects (music, astronomy, math, geometry, rhetoric, argumentation and grammar). But one thing is for sure, music always changes along with the standard of what people think in mind.
As far as the music education in Taiwan is concerned, the so-called ‘music-talented classes’ are very common from elementary schools to senior high schools but the musical education here still has plenty of problems which need to be faced. One of the biggest issues is that people in Taiwan seldom perform the local piece (traditional music). The reason can probably be that people are not cultivated to learn the traditional music since the present dominance of Western culture has left more and more Chinese, Japanese and Korean performers “professional” in the music of the Western. Gradually, we are not familiar with our own music. Another serious problem is that people normally decide to become musicians at their early age, so the government only takes care of music-talented children, which makes students without musical talents do not have much access to learn the music ‘professionally and classically’. The major difference between these two groups results in the problem that students in general classes usually do not appreciate classical music. Obviously, it is not good for government to promote classical music especially when the music will only be the minorities’ interest.

Plato once said “We should ensure that everyone in our society is given the opportunity of participating in a wide range of different kinds of music.” I strongly agree with this statement. Since the pop music is pervasive all over the world and it should not be excluded. It is thought that people should not just focus on learning classical music. Take myself for example. Despite the big interest in the classical music, I still appreciate other kind of music such as pop music. On the contrary, Socrates said that “Music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made… for any musical innovation is full of dangers to the whole States, and ought to be prohibited.” Personally, I oppose to Socrates’ view because the diversified of music will be sure to equip people with even more delicate and richer perceptibility of classical music. For instance, people are always exposed to various kinds of opinions and these opinions will enlighten people to improve their subliminal. Moreover, it is necessary for all the music learners to approach comprehensive arts including dancing, theater, and painting. It is believed that one who knows music well must know how to appreciate other arts. The famous violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter once shared her own perception about the art “We can not expect all the people to be musicians or even violinists but they should be taught to appreciate different kind of arts.”

In my conclusion, even if there is no affirmative answer to the origin of music, it is not deniable that music has been playing a critical role in people’s lives for thousands of years. Just as what Plato said, “music is a powerful instrument of education”. After reading the book “Music and the Mind”, I agree that music is absolutely universal artistic form throughout the world and even the history. Music education does not mean that governments or parents are required to cast tremendous resources on children to make them become musicians. The most important thing is that the government should take measures to help music to be cared by all the people and build the proper understanding about music and how to make use of it to make people’s lives richer and more colorful. It is believed that people do not need to be expert in music but should learn to appreciate it, instead. At least, it is considered that “music stimulates the mind, captivates the heart, and nurtures the soul.”


1. Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind, The Random House Publishing Group, New York, 1992.

2. Yang, Pei-Ren, A History of Western Classical Music, Taiwan.

3. The Closing of the American Mind (Introduction) by Allan Bloom book review.htm

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato

5. http://tw.knowledge.yahoo.com/question/question?qid=1406011800563