How would music have evolved if there were no religion?

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Discussion by: thebear250

For the sake of argument, let us talk about primarily Western music.  I am operating under the assumption that everyone knows what I am refferring to when I say Western music.  From music of antiquity (ancient Greece, for our sake) through the Middle Ages, music was interwined with the dealings of the church.  Until the unification of the churches by Charlemagne, music and the liturgy was widely varied throughout the churches of the west.  It wasn't until Pope Gregory the Great (and I use that term only because of his historical significance) that music became unified and codified within the Roman Catholic liturgy.  This music, most often, is known as Gregorian chant.  It was latin, monophonic, has a very low intervallic range, and had two different outputs from which it was sang:  the Mass and the Offices.  I won't go in to further detail about these, as it is not important to the set up of the initial question.  Music of the religious sort is termed sacred.  

There was music outside of the church.  Secular musicians were among the most inventive and virtuoso of the time.  The troubadores and trouveres of France, and the Minnesingers and the Meistersingers of Germany; these being the most common secular musical performers and composers of this time.  With that said, music was mostly influenced and progressed by the Roman Catholic Church, and even as the Protestants arose this remained so.  The Renaissance saw more secular music unfolding, and more with the Baroque (despite Bach writing most of his music for the Church, I do not feel his music was actually "inspired”, as his genius and artistic precision says otherwise.  It may have just been a job, but I can only speculate at this point), but the Classic era saw even more pulling away from the religious world.  Eventually in the Romantic, most music was secular, if I may.  Until now most artistic music (in the 20th century and beyond) is mostly secular with maybe an influence from religion here and there among composers.

History lesson aside, I want to really get some feedback on this point:  how would music have evolved if there were no religion?  Why was it so tied to the church?  For religious reasons, or something else?  Perhaps the most intersting question is, would it have evolved faster?  As we see music becoming increasingly secular, we also see a faster evolution of harmonic language, form, and the very sound of the music becoming an extension of the composer and his emotions rather than an inspiration from god.  After careful thought, the answer may just be yes.  Without religious restrction on philosophy, science, etc., those practices would, perhaps, be even more greatly advanced.  Could the same be said of musical concepts, theory, harmony, and language?

I would prefer thoughtful and intelligent answers within this discussion board.  I am preparing to research this topic, and want to find more sources for it (as well as find answers through discourse), so if any one of you know a few sources that might be good to research this topic, that help would be appreciated.

53 COMMENTS

  1. Ok, the first thing. Bach was a genius whether he was religious or not, even if he had been religious, his “divine inspiration” would have come from himself (I mean that it could not have come by divine inspiration because god does not exist).
    The second thing is that you have to go beyond europe, back to 12000 years ago, when agriculture first appeared, I am not an expert in this issue, so you asked for my source, here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ceXk_VLQAE .
    Do not listen to the other guys like graham hancock and all those ancient alien “theorists”, it is a waste of time, i know that for experience.
    The point of the documentary is that civilization as we know it was caused by religion, but because it was an advancement it had bad consecuences, read “the vegetarian myth” to see the consecuences of agriculture. Anyway, all civiization owes its existence to religion, so music without religion would be a very hard idea to grasp…… I guess you should start begin by comparing secular contemporary music with the most medieval religious music you can find and then try to imagine how music would have developed, then search for music of that kind

    • In reply to #1 by Frank Ohsawa:

      Ok, the first thing. Bach was a genius whether he was religious or not, even if he had been religious, his “divine inspiration” would have come from himself (I mean that it could not have come by divine inspiration because god does not exist).

      True, that. However, if it weren’t for the church, would he even have had a job as a composer? His prolific output was basically due to the fact that his job required him to create new music for every week’s service. Sure, some of his music was more of a personal nature (Anna Magdalena Notebook, Art of the Fugue, etc.), but once again he probably wouldn’t have had the luxury to write those works if he didn’t have his “day” job as a church organist to begin with.

    • In reply to #2 by Nitya:

      Does folk music count, or are you only interested in classical music?

      I am interested in Western music. All encompassing. Secular music of the Medieval period could be considered “folk.” It was music of the people and the courts. This is a general look at western music as a whole. I want to find out how music might have evolved faster or slower without religious influence and overbearance.

      • In reply to #18 by thebear250:

        In reply to #2 by Nitya:

        Does folk music count, or are you only interested in classical music?

        I am interested in Western music. All encompassing. Secular music of the Medieval period could be considered “folk.” It was music of the people and the courts. This is a general look at western music…

        Music, like most forms of arts flourishes through patronage, whether it’s by the support of the church, lords or emperor. We’re lucky that we live in an era where where mass production technology have made it possible for the general public like you and me to support the music and musicians that we like.

      • In reply to #18 by thebear250:

        In reply to #2 by Nitya:

        Does folk music count, or are you only interested in classical music?

        I am interested in Western music. All encompassing. Secular music of the Medieval period could be considered “folk.” It was music of the people and the courts. This is a general look at western music…

        I immediately think of Gregorian Chants etc, but I would imagine a flourishing folk culture of jigs and madrigals, children’s songs and so on , developing alongside more serious tunes. I haven’t read the comments for a while, so I’m probably repeating what others have said.

  2. I don’t know about other composers, but I have Kochel’s catalogue (#6) of Mozart’s works before me, and what I see is that at the age of 5, when he would have already heard about god and Jesus and the church (since his father worked for the Archbishop of Salzburg), yet his first composition was a minuet for the piano which had nothing to do with religion, nor the second, nor the 76th, but the 77th (Kochel #020) which he composed at the ripe old age of 9 was a motet (God is our refuge), a sacred madrigal for four voices, while he was on a visit to London in 1765 with his father Leopold.

    Out of the 898 known pieces that Wolfgang composed during his short life, 76 of them (8.5%) were religious; so I dare say (although there is always someone there to tell us otherwise) that if there were no religions in the world, he would still have composed the other 822 divinely secular pieces.

  3. Well if there is no god, then music evolved (the way it did) because of the human structure that surrounded it. So some form of human organisation probably organised music as we know it in the west, but if it hadn’t evolved this way it would likely have some other way. I think you are onto something in evolving at a different rate. World music is a good example. There is a tension between influencing traditional musicians with western music away from the traditional music. If we stuck religiously to traditional music we would of course have no progress. I cannot imagine that religious music allowed for quick and regular innovation but happy to be corrected.

  4. For the sake of argument, let us talk about primarily Western music.

    What about Country ?

    I would prefer thoughtful and intelligent answers within this discussion board.

    Ah sorry.

    Michael

  5. Music is a reflection of the laws that govern the universe: pitch/harmony = frequency = math, as one example. Music of the church was just a “gig” – the composers were paid to write. Take any piece of a religious nature, take out the religious content and the music remains as effective. In regard to how it would have evolved – religion did a wonderful job of “keeping science down,” didn’t it? We had to wait a rather long time for a Zappa and that is a shame.

  6. An oil painting depicting Snape killing Dumbledore (er um… *spoiler alert). An opera saluting the epic quest of Super Mario, and his brother Luigi. Fiction is great inspiration for other works, and I think it works better when the artist is aware. We also see periods where a secular or humanist spirit defines an age, and the subsequent fruition of arts (Greeks, Renaissance, Enlightenment, etc). From what I see, the soul killing delusions and facile, comic book metaphysics of Abrahamism, only serve to cheapen artistic expression, much in the same way corporate art/music is blutleer, even from the hands of a genius. Bach thrived in spite of Abrahamism, not at all because of it.

    As music is a source of pleasure, the Church has always fought against it. The Church sanctioned music was always the worst of its day, while the authentic music of any culture often carries bawdy, sexual overtones. Popular pagan fertility dances were whitewashed, much in the same way rock ‘n’ roll suffered being co-opted by WASP culture warriors. There were even numerology based prohibitions against certain composition forms, like four measures at a time (frame). Everything was done three measures at a time. It sucked. It’s Pop Goes The Weasel, without the ending, then repeated… it’s freakin’ horrible.

    When Michelangelo struck his horned statue of Moses and commanded it to speak, I don’t think he was in a very orthodox mindset. What Bach experienced as he praised his god may have been just as heretical. If you give a brilliant mind the Bible as the total reference, that will be its reference, whether that mind does logic, ethics, cosmology, or music. Religion is like a low quality fuel. It works, but anything else works better (booty, heroin, etc).

    Rather than the Bible inspiring art, I say the Bible survived Darwinistically, as a meme because artists artists borrowed from it like a language, as reference and ideas. Our grace is not in thanking religion for art, but in forgiving the artists and appreciating the art despite the glorification given to religion in the process. Let’s not disgrace these few brilliant minds that survived the fires of inquisition by thanking God for their achievements.

    How many Bachs were burned at the steak? It is with music is as with anything else, because of Abrahamism, we are 500 years behind, and it’s still dragging us down. In a thousand years someone might attribute music to corporatism, look at all the Sony musicians, Brittney Spears, in his late years Ray Charles praises Pepsi, etc. It’s the same as the correlation arguments lobbed by Stalinists who point to the rise in industrialization during his decades of genocide (correlating phenomena can happen in spite of an agent, not because of). Religion poisons everything… that’s what poison is.

  7. Hi Bear ~ I’m impressed! What a huge subject you’ve chosen to explore

    I hope the below will stir some ideas & not be considered too OT. I gave it a try at least. I can only suggest some influences that changed music INDIRECTLY. I can’t imagine easily what the effects might have been of increased/decreased religiosity other than to ask the question…

    Without Christianity could we have had the industrial revolution 1,000 years earlier?

    1] I have the impression that the introduction of stringed keyboard instruments in the 14thC & particularly the piano in the 18thC changed everything ~ the piano allowing for soft/quiet more dynamic compositions must have made a huge difference ~ an orchestra in a box if you will. Imagine a world where the versatile modern piano didn’t exist !

    2] I believe settlers going West in the USA could order mini piano-style instruments & harpsichords for the home by catalogue from dear old Richard Sears and Alva Curtis Roebuck. The worldwide industrialisation of instrument making & the resultant rapid drop in prices must have been a major influence in musical history. Every bar & decent-sized public venue had musical technology available at an affordable price

    3] Education, sheet music, recording/playback technology [punched tape, cylinder with the spikes, wax cylinder, vinyl disc & so on] , radio

    4] “Discovery” of America > Slavery comes to the West Indies > [...] > Robert Johnson > Jimi Hendrix & Jimmy Page [sorry couldn't resist]

    Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful, but I’m a musical dunce outside of Jazz & Blues

  8. The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not as the case may be) as originally written. No other system can do this. It was a ‘religious’ system, invented almost 1000 years ago by a monk, Guido d’Arezzo, who wanted to make it easier to learn Gregorian chant (which previously had to be learnt by heart). The ‘fixing’ of sounds and rhythms meant that more complex textures could be developed and repeated time after time again. All music (pretty well) has since been affected by Western notation (and Western tuning come to that), so it’s now difficult to turn back the clock to see what things used to be like.

    Western music, as far as any survives for us to recreate, thus began with the church (I can’t pretend otherwise) but very quickly spread to secular events – dances in particular. Almost all Western folk music has its roots in the music of the church. Modern folk music is an amalgam of many different styles, all filtered through Western music. Even jazz (with its influences of Jewish, African and vaudeville music) is filtered through Western scales (tuning, that is).

    Having said all this, we don’t know exactly how or when music began. It was probably as a mixture of vocal sounds and percussive beats. It is easy to speculate that it was often connected with rituals and collective gatherings – certainly in later millenia it was (Greek drama, for instance) – but we have nothing that survives (or rather that we can read).

    It is probably true to say that without the filip provided by the need to learn Gregorian chant, Western music might never have developed notation and would not have become pe-eminent.

    • In reply to #11 by Pabmusic:

      The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not as the case may be) as originally written. No other system…

      The Chinese created a primitive version of notation 400 years before Jesus was born and the Sumerians had their own version 4000 years ago. There’s nothing special about it.

      • In reply to #12 by adiroth:

        In reply to #11 by Pabmusic:

        The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not as the case may be) as origina…

        But the difference is that Chinese notation proved not to be as useful as Western notation – it was certainly not as flexible. It notated a limited range of pitches – no rhythms. (This is the Yi Zeng notation from 433 BCE – it’s the oldest. There are others, but none cracks the combination of pitch and rhythm.) Sumerian archaeology has left us with some scales, but again no idea of rhythm. It’s rather as if our musical notation consisted of a tune with chord symbols. There is no way to exactly reproduce what the writer wanted.

        • In reply to #14 by Pabmusic:

          In reply to #12 by adiroth:

          In reply to #11 by Pabmusic:

          The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not a…

          That’s just cultural bias, really. Music technology improves all the time & in reality, rather using the traditional 7 scales, we now master our audio at 24-bit/96kHz which is unprecedented accuracy which seemed to be magical to any medieval musician. It’s only the limitation of music education that teaches us using ancient techniques that does not fully utilise the technology at our disposal. If “religious” musical technology is so perfect, then why is there the demand for all this technology?

          You’re just making an argument from lack of imagination. Just because there was a stage when religious music theory contributed to music in general, it does not mean that it belonged to religion. Is religion a disease? Does it poison everything it touches and assimilate it?

          • In reply to #16 by adiroth:

            In reply to #11 by Pabmusic:

            You’re just making an argument from lack of imagination. Just because there was a stage when religious music theory contributed to music in general, it does not mean that it belonged to religion…

            And I never said it did. I really don’t think I should need to repeat myself, but what I said was:

            Having said all this, we don’t know exactly how or when music began. It was probably as a mixture of vocal sounds and percussive beats. It is easy to speculate that it was often connected with rituals and collective gatherings – certainly in later millenia it was (Greek drama, for instance) – but we have nothing that survives (or rather that we can read).

            It is probably true to say that without the filip provided by the need to learn Gregorian chant, Western music might never have developed notation and would not have become pe-eminent.

            The point I was making was that the influence of Western music on all the music that most people hear today has been so very pervasive that it cannot be denied. To take just tuning, this has been influenced by the rise of the piano (and especially the piano accordion, which has the status of a folk instrument in some cultures, but which is barely more than 100 years old). The rise of these (for instance) displaced many of the traditional sounds, so that today even ‘traditional’ music has often been filtered through Western music. (And, yes, I know there is still music around that is clearly non-Western. This is not an exact science.)

            But the biggest influence upon Western music was notation that allowed the more-or-less exact repetition of what was written by performers who never knew the author. There is just no parallel elsewhere, and it is the reason why large, complex pieces can be created that are exactly repeatable – the principal feature of Western music. And the development of written notation of the sort I am talking about was through the need to remember Gregorian chant, and is directly attributable to Guido d’Arezzo (who also thought up tonic sol-fa as well as ‘modern’ pitch-rhythm notation – so we’d never have had The Sound of Music!)

            But none of this means that the Church ‘owned’ music except that it was the stimulus for its development. Secular music emerged almost immediately that could be written down and played or sung by others who’d never heard the original.

            If “religious” musical technology is so perfect, then why is there the demand for all this technology?

            A strange question. If things were so perfect 1000 years ago, why do we want more? Well, for one thing it took perhaps 400 years for Guido’s system to become well enough known and useful enough to be used widely (it was tweaked a lot on the way). But improvements in notation inspired improvements in the instruments to play the music. Notation meant the rise of the new idea of ‘key’ (not something found in non-Western cultures) which in turn provided the evolutionary pressure for keyboard instruments and the eventual dominance of a system of tuning that was a compromise, but which allowed a huge divergence of music types to emerge. In the last 60 years, electronics have added to this trend and computers do now.

            But it all ‘evolved’ from a technology that allowed sounds to be captured in a permanent form and reproduced by remote performers – Guido’s notation system. We shouldn’t deny that simply because it had a religious purpose.

            And by the way, I don’t understand “argument from lack of imagination”.

    • Your mention of bird-song brings to mind the works of Olivier Messiaen. His music is almost entirely inspired by his religiousity. As a basis for much of it, he uses bird song and mathematically-based construction. His harmonies are way, way removed and more advanced and complex than any of the simplistic forms we saw earlier in church music. Indeed, much of the harmonies are unique to Messiaen and far removed from anything like the sentimentality of the kind of music you’d actually hear IN a church.
      In reply to #13 by Alan4discussion:

      How would music have evolved if there were no religion?

      Try listening to bird-song!

  9. OP “let us talk about primarily Western music.”

    Without religion the only missing genre or feature would be that of Christian Rock Music.

    Billy Connolly deals with that beautifully, if you haven’t seen it on YouTube already.

  10. Thanks to everyone for their responses. Now, some of you have asked and commented: “what about the Chinese or etc.?” Well this is a question I often ask in my classes as well, and a subject of which I am not well versed because of the lack of answers. I love ethnomusicology though. And chinese instruments are among my favorite instruments in the world (I have a Di’zi, Xiao, and Er’hu).

    I am primarily concerned with western music in this sense because the church played such a major role. It is difficult to imagine music without the influence of the church, but as time goes on (even within Bach’s time) music becomes a secular event. The use of some liturgical forms (Mass and Requiem Mass) have been included as secular forms in the standard repertory.

    • In reply to #17 by thebear250:

      Thanks to everyone for their responses. Now, some of you have asked and commented: “what about the Chinese or etc.?” Well this is a question I often ask in my classes as well, and a subject of which I am not well versed because of the lack of answers. I love ethnomusicology though. And chinese i…

      Perhaps what you are looking for is innovations in music that would not have occurred without religion. Very interesting because music possesses subjective and objective qualities. Objective matters, such as notation and theory, are sufficiently argued for here as independent of church influence, at best an historical coincidence, the power structure and medium for all human innovation for a thousand years. I’ll speculate on the subjective.

      Ideologies can influence music, as we see in the Cold War. The church did this in the same way as communist nations, through censorship and select sponsorship. Looking at the sponsorship, I think trance inducing elements like chanting were encouraged and developed, specifically due to religious ideology and practice. Glass harmonicas and theremins would probably have been big hits. I believe chorus singing was valued by communists and the church for the same reason, diminishing individuality, demonstrating how one’s greatness is found in contributing to the whole.

  11. @ OP

    “Without religious restrction on philosophy, science, etc., those practices would, perhaps, be even more greatly advanced.”

    That argument is being contested by Tim O’Neil at “The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”

    The problem with the music question is that it is hard to say whether religion helped or hindered the progress of music. No religion, no big composition commissions that we are graced with today. Would the greats that were composed because of religious commission have been composed anyway, or would greater compositions have been the order of the day, who can say? Would that have stifled or driven progress, who can say? Just my opinion and not much help I’m afraid.

  12. In my readings and classes, I have found a number of influences that the RCC has thrust upon the world of music, claiming it as their own. As my fellow posters have said, notation was an important development driven by the church. Notation, however, was developed separately, by other entities, and could have been perfected independently of the church’s influence. I assert that the labels applied to music theory by the church in that time did more to direct the hands of musicians than the notation. They began to label musical attributes with moral qualifiers. For example, often times subdivisions of three in a piece’s meter would be labeled as perfect, and subdivisions of two were imperfect. Chord progressions were similarly labeled. If I remember correctly, a IV chord in a 6/4 inversion to a I chord was described as a “perfect” plagal cadence. Even intervals were subject to their moral evaluation. The tritone interval (diminished fifth) was called “the devil in music,” and was to be used sparingly.

    The church, as in all its endeavours, decided to be the entity that would explain music for everyone, and make all of the rules. If the tritone had not been demonised, it’s possible that jazz and blues could have happened sooner in the course of western music. Of course, it’s also possible that “western music” would have never gained such a cultural foothold if the church had not sanctioned and subsidised it.

    I prefer to think that if the church had not planted its flag in melody and harmony, that music would be even more accessible to people without formal training. I think the church made it too serious an endeavour. ( I realize that comment is laughable out of context.) Western music may have evolved, on its own, into a way for untrained people to communicate complex emotions or concepts non-verbally; rather than those concepts being fed to us by a cultural subset of people (musicians). Maybe the line between language and music would have eroded further. Though, I am not versed in ethnomusicology, and have no examples of this happening elsewhere.

    This is an excellent topic for conjecture. I hope to read your book on it in the future.

  13. My mother Joyce Newman was a musicologist who taught several ethnomusicology classes. I have her library now but it’s still in boxes along with her curricula and rubric so can’t really check. I do know her dissertation and book was on the tragedies lyric of jean baptiste de lully for the court of Louis XIV which was the most extravagant, secular display of mechanics, people, and music until … the VMA awards show.

    To answer the narrow version of what necessarily involves inputs from other parts of the world, evolution, in music as well, changes faster during times of exposure to stress or otherness. Isolation, tradition, and protectionism all maintain musical status quo as much as possible within the inherent creation of stress from molecular evolution–the biological, mechanical base of the production of voice, hearing, and feeling. In other words, medieval church music shows less evolution than concurrent folk music of troubadours and others much of which has been lost but is most likely less sophisticated whatever that means. The reformation made more music diverse in the same way it created more sects with different names. If you look at evolution through gaming then the creation of rules does create a creativity and when the rules stagnate, the breaking of rules engenders creativity. This cycling back and forth creates yet another game of rule changes in a set theory kind of way.

    looking at music from that specific view also confirms Durkheim’s social foundations where religion produces education, authority, loyalty, fairness, and what most forget, enthusiasm and ebullience. In this sense religion was a totalizing and integrated influence good or bad. The break of that creates need to compensate for one or more of the foundations and hence stress to evolution. Durkheim himself advises to a secular version to open up and universalize these aspects.

    IMHO it would be incorrect to assume evolution is progress especially in music as the discovery of the physics, euphony, and psychoemotive aspects really is less relevant in such a small sample of time and geography–though loss of hearing, vision, smell, and sight in industrial cultures very definitely affects the app[reciation and creation of music–much less the change of oral to written to visual to digital media. Remember myopia is a gene flip from wearing glasses. Of course, evolution is possible in a few decades if not a few years but what I mean is I don’t think religion held music back from it’s greek roots–even polytonality was not so different.

    The church certainly refused to transfer what it considered primitive music from the “savages” it experienced but once again art as viewed as game theory separate from physicalism (discovery of materials that allow different types of expression) doesn’t progress but merely meets the demands, parameters, of the environment in which it’s living.

    Hope this helps.

    Jim

  14. Religion and musics have long common history. Religion using from long time music. How many song have jesus in is text, i don t want know. But. Music have pagans origins.Black musics became from unreligious music, pagans musics. I suppose classical musics never exist, just popular musics.

  15. Ok, work done. Still on topic about western music after greeks. If plato hadn’t been followed and epicurus had won the idiotic materialism debate and if spiritually hadn’t hijacked culture such that empiricism and reason were repressed along with the neglect of libraries to tatters and ignoring the droning arabesque style of Islamic music to come and assuming relevant notation would inevitably arise, the technology of music would have increased tremendously and far more early. It’s hard to say whether styles would have progressed as aesthetics are reflective of culture. Some see polytonality, rock and roll and country as regressive and taking away others see it as hyrbridizing and refreshing dead euroclassical.

    What is clear is the vast resources available in the bread basket would have inevitably allowed civilization to grow in a way impossible to other areas a la Jared Diamond. The growth of city-states would easily accelerate cultural and material evolution. Without religion repressing exploration I would guess technology would excel quickly. Disease, parasites, agricultural production, rare metal extraction, all would have come much earlier–presuming some other repression didn’t come forth. As would presumably more advanced governing and judicial systems

    If the arab peninsula had had resources and had been religious while the west wasn’t then they might have conquered and we’d have an islamic rule and probably all be doing arabesque’s still or no frivolous music-dance at all. If Africa had come forward with it’s integral dance-music we’d probably be dancing or singing most of the time and having sex everywhere.

    If Epicurus had won we’d probably have a more joyous yet still restrained life as Epicureanism was not the kind of hedonism assumed by most. Restraint might have led to more egalitarian government sooner.

    If the west had figured to resolve the resource-population dilemma there would have been much less suffering and perhaps music would have less misery attached to it along with those near-cerebean orgies for release.

    Music technology really does make a difference in the same sense that finding cadmium, acrylics, and creating Paintshop changed painting. The use of Cad-Cam, exotic woods, nylon for gut strings, and titanium etc for metal all made instruments better, more tunable, and more accessible to many.

    Assuming democracy continued it’s likely music would have been more family oriented where everyone learned music along with math and science as they should do now and singing would be ubiquitous. It’s likely writing and printing would have happened more early. It would be interesting to know exactly how accelerating through technology might have actually made music more accessible to many.

    I don’t think primitivism would have emerged and endured though perhaps disparate city-states might have become more diverse after all but I doubt it as humans too often enjoy the other after rejection–the world is full of romeo and juliets merging families and cultures along trade routes. The need for resources from afar would have been strong. I would guess that reason and science instead of dogma and authoritarianism would have lead to more peaceful coexistence of parallel social growth and evolution rather than making esperanto and mulato prime.

    It’s near impossible for me to not see manifold and orders of magnitude of benefits to all aspects of human culture if religion hadn’t dominated western history. That being said the west still progressed beyond islam and other inhibiting religions which could greatly use a reformation which will lead to a bloom of their culture and I wish I could see its results.

    It is possible to pine for pregreek, preprotoagrian culture where foraging lifestyles could have endured for tens of thousands of years with little change. Whether that is good or bad is anyone’s guess. Just my choice. Very little if anything is going to push back our inevitable extinction by too much though we seem bent on advancing it. I am not sure the point of a 40 million year tenure versus a 100 year tenure.
    My own selfish aspect though would be to hope for the longest and most comfortable tenure. Whether that means world domination or niche development is a guess. Perhaps though if reason and science had ruled, war and colonialism would have been so much less that extinction would extend much further out. It’s difficult to know how much competition is necessary to maintain competitive status quo with disease, and predation. I would think we might have stayed a bit ahead though. Too much ahead and we become a better target for competition.

    I am happy to consider losing authority and loyalty from the moral foundations for fairness and equality and the sooner that had happened the better.

    just some rambling thoughts….

  16. A creative act is usually composed of a balance of technical skill and aesthetics. (So I will mix other arts into my view.) I have my doubts that religion effected the progress of music because the technical mechanics of the instrument existed and was utilized. Religion affected the style and expression, but the technical aspect of music would have been effected to a lesser extent. To assume that the advancement of architecture was due to religion is collapsing the technical and aesthetics into one. Religion was simply a motivator not directly responsible for any technical progress. A simple arch and flying buttress was desired to be taller and higher to reflect the “glory of God.” The religious need sparked the architect/artist to strive to solve the dilemma of making a high stable ceiling such as the one in Notre Dame. Religion posed certain problems for artisans and architects to solve but was not responsible for the creative ingenuity. A bride might want to have a wedding party that reflected her tastes in woodland folk, fairies, and fantasy. It is up to the wedding planner to then create an atmosphere by selecting objects, decorations, music, lighting, etc. that solves the bride’s needs and wishes. The bride just like religion played very minor roles in the materialization of the creative act, it would be up to the creative person to manifest the form in which the idea would be expressed.

    Think of all the technological advancements of the 20th century. Consider vinyl records, tapes, CDs, electric guitars, electric violins, prerecorded sounds on an organ or keyboard, a moog machine, electronically enhanced sounds, layered recorded sounds, the exposure to other forms of music from various cultures, instruments from other cultures ( due to air travel.) Technology (and science) is responsible for the explosion of creative efforts and creativity forms.

    TECHNOLOGY (science) effected the advancement of all art forms including art, painting, sculpture, music, film, digital media….The creative act is expansive, innovative, flexible, adaptive, and “big” enough so that it can create around the subject of religion but not be limited by it. Art can expand and change with technology and society, but religion is inflexible, stable, and constrictive. Religion strives for unification and familiarity. It looks at all the options and selects one while creativity flourishes on open ended options that shift and change. Society immersed in religion had a need to utilize the arts for their purpose and the arts were flexible enough to find an answer.

    Music would have expanded without religion because we as humans have a natural rhythm and pattern seeking nature. Drums of many cultures beat to the sound of our heart, and sexual impulses. Babies coo to the sound of their mother’s voice. Simple rhythms and patterns found in the sound of our speech and repetitive sounds of everyday life were enhanced and used intentionally to express parallel emotions, human drives, and storytelling. Over time, many cultures expanded to more complex compositions. Consider how the mechanics of say – the violin contributed towards complex music.

    Would have the Gregorian chant eventually been created? Considering Buddhist monks chanting, native groups singing together, a mother humming in sync to the sound of her infants cooing. .. I think it would have, but have sounded somewhat different.

    Without religious restrction on philosophy, science, etc., those practices would, perhaps, be even more greatly advanced.

    In the early stages, my guess is that it helped with the advancement due to financial resources that enabled artisans to develop better technology. LIke it or not, funding from wealthy organizations and individuals provided opportunity for advancement. During that period, resources came from either royalty, wealthy elite, or churches that aligned themselves with people of power. Funding creates an environment in which creative people can best work.

    If a culture was satisfied living in a grass hut and had little threat of environmental harm, there would be no real need to create beyond utilitarian needs. I think this is another topic worth looking into, but I’d need to read Guns Germs and Steel.

  17. Just because there was a stage when religious music theory contributed to music in general, it does not mean that it belonged to religion. Is religion a disease? Does it poison everything it touches and assimilate it?

    I agree, art seeks to expand, express, innovate, and embraces the new and changing. Religion seeks to limit, repress, conform and embraces tradition and familiarity. Religion utilized art; without art’s beauty and elevating emotions, religion would seem cold, limiting, and boring. Religion cannot and could not control or contain art. Art moved on and away from religious themes and subject matter, It’s as if creative people intuitively knew ( and intellectually found out) that religion had/has little to do with actual life. The more people move away from religion a whole other world is exposed as worthy of reverence and expression.

  18. We might be free of Bach’s tedious organ pieces. I think he had to compose one for each week. They are incredibly dreary.

    Look at the themes in pop music: I think X is the bees knees, X dumped me. We might have seen those themes expressed symphonically.

    Mozart might still have done his requiem, perhaps with the emotions toned down a bit.

    Most of opera could have developed in the same way.

    The grandiosity could be moved to the crown.

  19. Why was it so tied to the church?

    I’d guess because of the importance of the church in our early history for various reasons. With little or nothing to go on for many years it was our explanation for the world and our succour in hard times I guess. Music is also tied to other things that were/still are important to human beings. Hundreds of lyrics are devoted to love and loss for example. As we move to more secular age and greater understanding music is less tied to the church.

    As we see music becoming increasingly secular, we also see a faster evolution of harmonic language, form, and the very sound of the music becoming an extension of the composer and his emotions rather than an inspiration from god.

    I would imagine that has far more to do with the impriovements in the technology that allows us to both produce and access music rather than anything else. And the fact that music is part of the curriculum (thank goodness) and more people have access to learning it.

    extension of the composer and his emotions rather than an inspiration from god.

    I think it always has been. It is just once those emotions were linked to belief in a God now they aren’t. They are the same emotions but with a different focus.

  20. It seems mildly disaapointing that most (all?) of the comments relate to the las couple of thousand years. In the 1970s, some scholars had succeeded in reading cuneiform musical notation (Sumerian, I think), and attempts were made to record recreated sounds. From WikiPedia and other sources, it seems that music was ceremonial, some religious and some otherwise. We’ve had music for many thousands of years, it appears, and the last couple of thousands are just an eyeblink in human cultural history.

  21. How would music have evolved if there were no religion? Yes it could have. But one should also ask the counter question “How would religion have evolved if there were no music?” Religions that had incorporated music into them had developed as tolerant religions where as without music religions were devoid of free expression and evolved as rigid and dogmatic. Certain sects of Islam consider music a sin and forbidden. Music classes are banned in schools in Saudi Arabia because of religious reasons. The results today are obvious. The beautiful music, dance, and art of Indian subcontinent could not have evolved without the religion because their themes are based mostly on religious mythology. The Goddess Saraswati holding the musical instrument Veena in her hands is one of the most revered deity for Hindus. So the answer the original question would be that there is close synergy between music and religion. Both could have evolved independently but together they had enriched each other.

  22. You seem to be primarily interested in Continental music, i. e. that of Italy, France and Germany. But the British Isles have a lively and ancient musical tradition that predates the arrival of Christianity by many centuries and perhaps millennia. Most people are familiar with Celtic music in its many manifestations — Irish, Scottish, and to a lesser extent that of Brittany, Wales and Galicia in Spain. None of this music has any, or lets say very little, Church influence. What many people do not realize is that England, too, had an indigenous musical tradition that is similar to, but distinct from that of its Celtic neighbors. (I’m not referring to Morris dancing and the like.) A few scholars have attempted to compile and preserve as much of this music tradition as possible, but oddly enough, it seems to have rather died out in most parts of England. However, there is a great deal of evidence that indicates that the traditional, non-religious, English musical tradition traveled to the North American colonies and its influence can still be heard in the old Contra music (from which the term Country music is derived) as well as some of the Appalachian musical styles, many of which sound distinctly non-Celtic. For instance, the use of double stops in old time fiddle music does not have a clear parallel in Celtic music and may have an ancient English origin. This music, especially when played in an Appalachian setting, can send chills up your spine. It’s got a spooky, other wordly, pagan quality to it. None of this music has any religious overtones or influences that I can find. So, if you want to know what Western music without religion sounds like go to your local Irish pub session or Cape Breton, Nova Scotia or travel to the Hico Fiddle Festival in Virginia. But, whatever you do, don’t equate the current Nashville pop, big hat, Kenny Chesney style of music with this traditional music.

  23. Agreed limitation to Europe is impediment but think of it as a thought experiment. As such consider where we might be today if technology and culture had come along faster. There was a mechanical piano that did much better at reproducing the touch of the artist than the scroll types but was prohibitively difficult.

    Imagine if instruments had been made more interactive along the way such that one could interactively follow and lead scores including individual scores of individual artists. Imagine if you could have had lessons from your favorite artists because they had been able to be recorded accurately. Imagine technology where an instrument could advise you of your tonality and vocal range. Imagine if garage band were actually part of the instrument and it was actually intuitive. Imagine a society where people could have played together in symphonies rather than watch them. Imagine technology that actually can teach perfect pitch and teach a musician to play his notes as easily as if they were singing. Imagine concerts from the air as easily as on a boat in the harbor. Imagine learning mechanics so quickly that it took a couple of thousand hours instead on 10 thousand. Imagine the ubiquitous nature of art if we all had believed art, joy, was as important as seriousness and work. Imagine if people could play, sing, and dance as easily as they read Dr Seuss. Imagine if you could see lessons from the greats as easily as you watch TV shows. Imagine if medicine solved all the psycho issues and biases that inhibit us and our ability and learning. Yeah, I can go there.

  24. I can think of lots of forms of music with no connection to religion.

    Given brass horns and bagpipes, (and their signaling tunes) I think a case could be made for a primitive music existing on the battlefield as well. Then there are the lyre and zither, and other stringed instruments used for creating accompanying poetry or mime plays, or simply making pretty tunes for the lords and ladies. Ah yes, and the fiddle for dancing peasants.

  25. Thanks for the discussion topic. It’s a commonly raised argument I encounter when explaining my atheism.
    “Tim, what about art, and music. Where would they be?”
    Well for one they’d both have a lot less cherubs, angels, prophets and religious symbolism. Some arguments, and indeed posts in this thread, raise the way in which religious institutions funded artists and composers. I agree this occurred, as it is fact. Doesn’t stop me imagining what wonders could have arisen had churches not been the centre of wealth, prescribing what could be painted or written musically. Education in general was funded and spread via many churches throughout the centuries. Likewise I ponder our potential level of technological advancement had it not been so.
    Essentially, I see the issue to be religion wanting to claim something innate to the human species. Exactly the same as the hijacking of morality. “We wouldn’t have morals”. “We wouldn’t have music and art.”
    Nay, we’d have better versions of both.

    • In reply to #42 by Timothy McNamara:

      Essentially, I see the issue to be religion wanting to claim something innate to the human species. Exactly the same as the hijacking of morality. “We wouldn’t have morals”. “We wouldn’t have music and art.” Nay, we’d have better versions of both.

      I couldn’t agree more. Perfectly stated. Thanks.

  26. Personally, I think “what if” scenerios are doomed to failure. There are just too many variables. Leaving out religion as a factor is like asking how music would evolve if people only had one arm instead of two.

    Buuuut, I’ll try anyway. I don’t think the rapid evolution of music today has anything to do with religion. I think it is a consequence, at root, of growing population.

    Isolated communities would be slower to change their music than otherwise simply because of their isolation: they wouldn’t be exposed to new ideas. Any new ideas they did have wouldn’t spread and inspire newer motifs in turn.

    Although ancient bards travelled around, and could be hired (or bought) by local rulers, I can’t help but think that increasing social mobility contributed to the spreading of ideas among musicians as “musical centers” developed that they could move to, and then spread from, bringing the latest styles to the local social climbers.

    commercialism I think is the big boom to rapid musical “evolution” (I would prefer to call it “changes”). People are always wanting something new, whether in music or anything else. Once you can actually get a continuous feed of new things, then you will. I think I would include the technological advancements of radio and recording as part of this. Once you have those, you only need one musician to learn a musical piece, and then it can spread across country. Or even world.

    None of that has to do with religion, although I think the root of your question is, “has religion retarded changes in music?”

    Artists tend to speak about their art in practically spiritual terms, if not actually religious. So religion was basically an expression of their spiritual inspiration. Sure, music had certain acceptable forms, and that might have slowed down change, but I doubt it. “Peer polity pressure” ensured through all of human history competition among the elite. Just like Gothic cathedrals, religion has inspired artists to some previously unheard of heights… and gotten them the necessary patronage. Folk music would probably be more flexible, but it too was spiritually/religiously inspired in many cases. I don’t know that you can equate “static” with “religious”. You could draw the analogy of icons, where certain rules had to be followed when depicting Jesus, God, and the saints, but that had more to do with enabling illiterate parishoners to identify the figures, which I don’t think has any applicability when it comes to music.

    Nevertheless, anytime your remove the factor of an equation, the relusts will be different.

    In order to actually answer your question, though, I think you would need to look at the music of other cultures and see if there are any significantly non-religiously inspired. Then see how quickly it changed over time.

    • In reply to #43 by downshifter:

      …Commercialism I think is the big boom to rapid musical “evolution”…

      Well, yes. But what people are ignoring here (or more likely, not understanding) is that music has actually ‘evolved’ in a sense that is comparable to real evolution. Imagine if DNA had not appeared, and RNA was still the main vehicle of evolutionary change. You simply couldn’t discuss what path evolution might have taken in terms of DNA. Western music did have a ‘DNA moment’ that was not shared by other cultures. And yet there are some here who are speculating that music might have developed much as it did even if there had not been that DNA moment.

      I appreciate the fact that what I’m saying is unpopular (Western culture did this?- don’t be so Eurocentric) but since I firmly believe that it’s the West’s greatest contribution to culture, I don’t mind too much.

      I don’t want to repeat my earlier posts (numbers 11, 14 and 26) except to say that the ‘DNA moment was the emergence of a system of notation that allowed the accurate capture of music, so that – (1) it could be performed accurately, but remotely of the composer, and (2) composers could write pieces that were more and more complex. No other musical system has achieved anything like this. Music became more complex because it could be notated very accurately.

      The fixing (over a few hundred years) of notation led inevitably to the idea of keys. Composers were no longer limited to the sounds of ancient modes (basically, scaled derived from the white notes of the keyboard) but could explore musical ideas that had been impractical before. Why impractical? Because the laws of physics do not allow more than a tiny range of keys before tuning is affected. It was Pythagoras who worked out the relationships between different tunings – and if we had 19 sounds per octave we’d have a system that more accurately mirrored nature. But if we did, we couldn’t have workable keyboards (organs, pianos and the like) because they would be just too complicated for rapid passagework.

      So Western music developed a system of compromise tunings that were based on 12 sounds per octave. It’s often (but slightly inaccurately) called ‘equal temperament’. J S Bach’s 24 Preludes and Fugues were specifically written for a “Well Tempered Clavier” – a keyboard instrument tuned to the new system. Pieces in every possible key – and the instrument didn’t need to be retuned between pieces!

      This Western tuning system is pervasive now. It’s impossible to imagine how things sounded before. In fact, the first time people encounter ‘early music’ played with older tuning systems, they often sound out of tune. Much the same can be said of non-Western music. Yet it’s Western music that’s actually out of tune. None of this would have happened without the development of Western notation, and it’s a direct consequence of it.

      This applies to music you’d not expect to be affected by equal temperament. Folk music, for instance. It is impossible to imagine how – say – Irish folk music sounded before about 1700, because everything now has been affected by this compromise tuning. Someone posted here that the Celtic music of Britain, Brittany and Northern Spain dates back to before Christianity. No. It dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries without a doubt, and it will have been based on older traditions, but what we usually think of as folk songs now are Westernised tunes. Playford’s Dancing Master from the 1630s contains many tunes we we think of as now folk music, yet in the 17th century were simply well known tunes.

      I have undoubtedly gone on far too long. Western music is different from other musical traditions because of its DNA moment. And the stimulus for that moment was the need to record Gregorian chant in an accurate way. Hence, Guido d’Arezzo.

      • In reply to #44 by Pabmusic:

        Western music developed a system of compromise tunings that were based on 12 sounds per octave.

        It’s fascinating how practical engineering constraints imposed this structure. Fretless instruments have access to the whole frequency range, as does the slide trombone. Bending a guitar string also reaches pitches not accessible from a keyboard. The 12-pitch-octave and musical notation both enabled and constrained European (classical) music.

        With the technology of recording, sounds that cannot be accurately annotated can be copied and learned, as they would have been before the invention of the discrete keyboard and 12-pitch scale. And the same technology lets musicians create new sounds never heard before. The constraints have changed, and the 12-note compromise is no longer the only game in town.

        Interesting times.

        • In reply to #48 by OHooligan:

          …The constraints have changed, and the 12-note compromise is no longer the only game in town.

          Yes indeed, but in a sense it never was. It was always possible for non-fretted instruments (let alone the voice) to make more sounds than fiixedly-tuned instruments could, and there are many examples of precisely this. However, people became used to the compromise tuning, so that anything else now seems ‘different’ – odd, quirky, out-of-tune, or ‘mystic’. We hear things with ears (brains, rather) that are themselves tuned in a sense to Western scales and keys. We cannot go back to a time when we didn’t know Western tuning. That means that however many experiments we do with microtones, early tuning systems, ‘ethnic’ tuning and the like (and all these things have been common in Western music for a century or so) we can never hear them as our distant forebears might have.

  27. Pabmusic #11
    The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not as the case may be) as originally written.

    This is only half the story. The reason complex notation developed (over a very long time), was the need to notate polyphony, that is, the simultaneous performance of independent melody and rhythm. This began with simple parallel movement about a thousand years ago, and developed into the complex polyphony of the renaissance and further from there to the system of tonal harmony used in the 18th and 19th centuries, and today.

    Harmony and polyphony, rather than notation itself, is the distinguishing feature of European music over the last thousand years. I agree with Pabmusic that our musical systems can be extremely complex (in a good way) and really are one of the great achievements of Western culture.

    As for the church….it provided much of the support and demand for such music. Polyphony and harmony began primarily as religious sacred music. Would things have been different if the church had not existed? Yes. In what ways? Who knows, but our musical systems could have been very different, and without harmony and polyphony I would argue they would be the poorer for it.

    • In reply to #45 by zeerust2000:

      Pabmusic #11
      The thing that distinguishes ‘Western’ music from any other (and in itself may be the West’s greatest gift to culture) is notation. Western notation allows music not only to be preserved, but repeated by different players, exactly (or not as the case may be) as originally written.

      I don’t actually disagree strongly with anything you say, because my post is actually a model of reality, except that notation preceded polyphony by a couple of centuries. You really could write a book on this subject.

  28. In reply to #48 by OHooligan:

    With the technology of recording, sounds that cannot be accurately annotated can be copied and learned, as they would have been before the invention of the discrete keyboard and 12-pitch scale. And the same technology lets musicians create new sounds never heard before. The constraints have changed, and the 12-note compromise is no longer the only game in town.

    It’s true that the 12 tone scale is a compromise, but it is still based on the intervals at the lower end of the harmonic series. That is, the octave, fifth and third. Although the sizes of these intervals vary slightly based on the “temperament”, or exact tuning of the 12 note scale, the 12 note scale itself is not a construct arbitrarily imposed by the limitations of the keyboard. While smaller intervals such as seconds and thirds may have varying sizes, the basic structure of the 12 notes within the octave is based on the filling in of intervals within the pentatonic scale, which can be constructed with pure, “exact” intervals. Experiments with divisions of the octave greater than 12 have been interesting but, ultimately, if they depart too radically from the constraints imposed by the ‘perfect’ intervals of the fifth and octave, and the interval of the third, they will lack the potential of the 12 note scale to construct functional harmony and voice leading. My 2 cents (no pun intended).

    • In reply to #50 by zeerust2000:

      the basic structure of the 12 notes within the octave is based on the filling in of intervals within the pentatonic scale, which can be constructed with pure, “exact” intervals.

      Yes, exactly. A guitarist friend always tweaked his tuning depending on the song/key – as the “in between” notes require slightly different frequencies depending on which pentatonic scale (which key) the tune is based on. Violinists “sweeten” certain notes to suit the tune. It’s not something the average western trained ear would notice, except that a melody sounds a little more pure, and a chord resonates a little better when the frequencies fit the scale of harmonic relationships. The western ear has gotten used to the slight imperfections of the 12-note compromise (I mean the use of the same 12 frequencies to play in all keys). It’s not completely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. Which I suppose would be why some pieces sound best in the key for which they were composed.

  29. I am not an academic music historian by any means and do not claim to have a full answer to your question, but I do read a great deal on the history of music and I am quite knowledgeable about how the music of the past influences todays music. For me the greatest influence of any composer from the past on music in the late 20th and early 21st century Britain and the USA is Henry Purcell. His works still inspire musicians from pretty much every genre. In 2009 Pete Townshend from The Who cited Purcell as a major influence on the bands music, and I believe Phillip Glass has also listened a great deal to Purcell. In fact many many great composers and rock and pop bands all cite Purcell as being a major influence. The Funeral March of Queen Mary by Purcell is used in the film “A clockwork Orange”. Although I am not religious by any means I believe the music composed in the name of religion has been a huge accomplishment and without it music would have been a more frivolous and perhaps gaudy affair. I think any study of the kind you are going to undertake should start with Purcell
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Purcell

  30. aMusic ha existd far longer than religion has, modern music seems to have come from religion, only because for about 2000 years religion had a violent strangle hold on all of western culture, but really most music is designed to remind people of either emotional states or sexual behavior all which exist outside of religion.

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