Music As an Expression of Identity

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Since the beginning of time, music has been used as an expression of cultural identity. Ancient tribal societies used music as a foundation for gatherings and to express their history, ethnicity, and cultural beliefs. Music has changed throughout the ages, but the use of music as an essential part of cultural and individual expression has changed very little.

Music’s integral connection to identity is often difficult to recognize, especially in today’s society where music may not be viewed as being as message-oriented as it once was. There were times when entire generations or cultures of individuals each knew the same songs. During World War II, entire nations of people sang songs that expressed their national identity with their cause and their connection to their fighting forces. Again, with the protest songs of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the people of the nation explored their feelings about war, youth, and racial unrest. And, as music as a form of expression has grown, different individuals within the same society have come to identify with varying forms of music as their own individual expression of self.

Although music may not be as blatantly descriptive as the songs of decades past, music speaks to the individual in the same way that the individual speaks through music. A nation of parents sat perplexed as their children became entranced by the sounds of rock and roll, and now there are as many types of music to identify with as there are generational cliques to adapt the musical message. Parents are still perplexed by youth who dress like Britney Spears and Eminem and who use language expressed in song. The addition of music videos has also added a note to self-expression through music that wasn’t present until the last few years. Unlike past generations, today’s youth can see how the music is being expressed and can identify visually with their chosen genre. Television and the internet have also allowed international peoples to share their cultures through music.

Whether music is viewed as being an influence on youth or as being influenced by youth, is still secondary to the fact that it has always been present as a socializing factor. Whether that socialization takes place as a part of a group membership or as a way to express individuality, there is no way to ignore the fact that the influence and expression of music expands as the world community shares more of its musical styles. People may find that music speaks to them in a certain way, moves them in a certain way, or that they identify with its message. People may also find that they can use music to express themselves as individuals as well as to conform to a group. Doubtless, music and its connection to individual and group identity will take on new forms as people continue to be exposed to varying forms of music and culture.

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