Communities and Values

In “The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Festival Life,” Robert Gardner quotes Richard Florida, who says, “Where old social structures were once nurturing, they are now restricting.  Communities that once attracted people now repel them.  Our evolving communities and emerging society are marked by a greater diversity of friendships, more individualistic pursuits, and weaker ties within the community” (Gardner, p. 173).  I agree with this sentiment that many people have found themselves disillusioned with modernization and urbanization.  The stereotypical desire of past generations for the suburban house, with a white picket fence and garage! has even trickled down to our generation.  However, more frequently this “dream” is being replaced with the more pressing longing for creative self-expression, as well as fulfillment through acquiring knowledge, cultural immersion, shaping history, etc.  Florida speaks to this notion when he says that although people undoubtedly seek community, it is “not to the extent that they [are] inhibited from living their own life and being themselves” (Gardner, p. 173).

Parallel to this idea, Gardner summarizes festival-goers’ sentiments by stating that “they described their involvement as driven by a quest for intimate community, open and equal social relations, and simple living, elements they found in short supply in their daily lives. Whereas traditional community forms depend on residential stability, these participants intentionally cultivated and supported alternatives that emerged in response to participants’ geographic mobility” (Gardner, p. 155).  Gardner is suggesting that these individuals sought out to capture their values in their lifestyles and behaviors.

It interests me how this take seems to contrast other opinions on the development of communities.  In a chapter titled, “Music and Identity,” Simon Frith suggests that it “is not that social groups agree on values which are then expressed in their cultural activities…but that they only get to know themselves as groups (as a particular organization of individual and social interests, of sameness and difference) through cultural activity, through aesthetic judgement” (p. 111).  When this idea is applied to the Bluegrass community which Gardner studied, this would mean that members did not seek out certain values, but instead established behaviors and values through their playing Bluegrass and their geographic mobility.


The Portable Community: Mobility and Modernization in Bluegrass Festival Life by Robert Gardner

Florida, Richard. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure and Community in Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books

Chapter “Music and Identity” by Simon Frith


Music and Place

Relationships between place and music can be drawn on various levels, as each influences the other.  While the physical and cultural geographies of a place often provide inspiration for music, and may even dictate style, music also influences the character of a place.

Creation:  Place can simply be a space to gather and create music or celebrate it.  Congo Square in New Orleans is a prime example of this.  This space where slaves gathered and played music was originally named “Place de Negres,” or “Place Congo.”  It provided a means of holding on to their heritage and culture and escaping reality for a brief time.  Another example close to home is the evolution of Appalachian music.  Many manual laborers sang old traditional songs to pass time and others eventually integrated a wide array of influences to create what we know as Old-Time music.  Much of the songs’ subject matter is representative of Appalachian ways of living and Appalachian people’s sentiments and values.  No matter the location, these types of spaces have been vital to the emergence of new musical forms and shared musical experiences.

In the past, certain types or styles of music were more closely connected to small areas, speaking to local-scale innovation and creativity.  In modern times, music seems to defy the concept of “place” due to the relative ease of movement and rapid sharing of ideas and techniques.  On the flip side, while it may seem that “place” becomes trivial or less relevant as musical influences and cultures mesh, origins of music cannot be ignored.  The importance of place has always been an integral component in the evolution of music.  It represents a certain time in history when people and situations converged to allow for the creation of something powerful.  With regard to Appalachian music specifically, no other place shares the same exact geographies, lifestyles, mindsets, interests, etc.

Mutual influence between place and music:  Typically, music is a means for telling a place’s story…for expressing values.  Therefore, the place itself infiltrates musical content.  Within Appalachia, the physical geography of the mountains is so evident in the region’s music.  The lifestyle of Appalachian peoples is a main component of the song material.  Furthermore, the content in music itself seems to influence a place.  We can see this in the power of music and its use in past social struggles throughout history.  It can drive people to act and changes ways of thinking and doing, in general.  A famous example of the unifying power of music is the performances during the March on Washington in 1963:

Preservation and influence:  A place, or space, can also allow for the preservation and celebration of a musical heritage, whether it be through the collection of material music or through festivals and performances to commemorate it.  Fred Bartenstein wanted “to fix a place where the tapes and records and biographies of these artists can be kept so that a hundred years from now, people could come and hear the original generation, the way they played” (Goldsmith, p. 189).

“Music and Politics” by John Street

The Power of Music and Censorship

          John Street suggests that music and politics are not two distinct entities that interact and respond to each occasionally but are instead extensions of each other.  Rather than simply providing a forum for expression, he contends that music embodies political sentiments and values.

In her book, Music in Everyday Life, Tia DeNora suggests that while music can be used as a tool for control and oppression, it can also be used to empower people through articulating identities and emotions.  Considering music’s ability to inspire and shape individuals’ socio-political beliefs, it is not surprising that the urge to censor music has practically existed since the emergence of music.  Through investigating past censorship, Street considers the notion that governments, state agencies, other organization, etc. set out to censor music not because of its highly political content but instead because it may be seen as promoting certain political ideologies.  Therefore, he concludes that perhaps it is the responses of particular powerful interests who deem content to be offensive and act accordingly.  Most importantly, Street stresses the existence of political networks and dependencies surrounding censorship that make it rarely about the censoring of “offensive” material.  This is especially relevant when considering musical content that is deemed “subversive” to the U.S. economic or political system.

Another interesting approach to censorship is the one expressed by Cloonan which holds that “censorship should not be attributed only to the deliberate intent of identifiable censors…censorship can occur even where there is no deliberate intention to do so.”  This approach interests me because we all have underlying opinions and beliefs that subconsciously affect every action or choice we make.  Just like no matter how hard we may try to be unbiased, bias is always present.

Ultimately, I feel that the article’s intent is to prove how censorship itself stands to show how interrelated music and politics are, even in everyday life.  Street claims that music “has the power to disrupt the social and political order.  It does not just shock and scare; it changes hearts and minds.”  When one accepts that music has this power, especially in the realm of our political and social lives, then one can truly see the concern with censoring this major tool and influence.


“Music and Politics” by John Street