Steven Mithen: So what is the point of music?
It is perhaps astonishing that we live surrounded by music, we invest so much time, effort, and resource in listening to and, for some, performing music, and yet we can’t really say what it is.
That is just one of the many mysteries of music. Another is why we have such a compulsion to engage with music: why do we find so much music so beautiful to listen to, why does it stir our emotions, why do we have choirs, bands, and orchestras whose reason for existence is nothing more than to make music? Why do we sing in the proverbial bath? And this is not just us in the 21st century Western world, but throughout the world and existing throughout time: engaging with music is a human universal. There are no known societies, and as far as historians and archaeologists can tell, there never have been any societies that did not have cultural practices that we would categorize as music. Very few individuals will express a complete un-interest in music; even fewer will express a formal dislike.
This is very strange.
It is about how we came to be human in the broadest meaning of the term, and a key part of being human is being musical.