The Changing Sound of Music

Have you ever seen A Knight’s Tale? It’s a movie about a young peasant squire who dreams of being … a knight. Through a series of misadventures he eventually achieves his goal, defeats the bad guy, and wins the fair maiden’s heart. It’s a passable plot, but what makes this movie outstanding is the music. The soundtrack includes songs from Queen, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, David Bowie, Sly & The Family Stone, and other post-Middle Ages minstrels. One just doesn’t expect to see a crowd of spectators at a joust clapping and stamping to “We Will Rock You.”

Music has a long history. The Bible identifies Jubal as being “the founder of all those who handle the harp and the pipe” only a few generations from Adam. (Genesis 4:21) Unfortunately, we don’t know how that music sounded. It wasn’t until 1877 that Thomas Edison invented a way of recording sounds. And while various musical notation schemes have been around for 2000 years or more, their details are often sketchy. Even today there are several forms of music notation, but none of them are all-encompassing; some forms of music cannot be accurately represented on paper.

What we do know is that styles of music vary widely by time and place. Generally, we can distinguish Indian music from Chinese music, classical from rock. Yet, we may be hard-pressed to define exactly what it is that characterizes a particular style of music.

While it’s amusing to see a medieval story set to modern rock, it’s likely the actual characters wouldn’t know what to make of Queen or BTO. They didn’t have instruments capable of producing those sounds. But even with the instruments they had, they likely wouldn’t have conceived of such tunes as “We Are The Champions” or “Takin’ Care Of Business.” To them, it would have been so much noise.

So what will our music be like in another thousand years? Will we even recognize it? Will we imitate the sounds of nature, bird song and whale song? Or will it also just seem like so much noise to our 21st century ears? To those who grew up listening to Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters, much of the music today sounds like noise!