Musical Expression: Then and Now

Museum - Hildegard von Bingen

Through the ages, music has proven to be a fundamental aspect of human life. Rich or poor, royal or common, old or young, music is common to all. Music predates written history, but for the purposes of this exploration of music throughout history, we’ll begin by looking back to Medieval times…

Originally regarded as servants of the court, during the Medieval period (from the 5th to the 15th century), minstrels entertained royalty with whimsical songs about fantastical places and distant events. Stretching truth is an integral aspect of the minstrel’s lyrical form, contributing to notions we continue to hold today, such as the knight in shining armor slaying an abominable, fire-breathing dragon. By the mid 15th century, Minstrels formed a guild, which they were required to join, lest they wish to instead give up their craft. Some minstrels were retained by the court, to later become known as jesters, often wearing a silly hat outfitted with bells and taking up juggling.

Eventually, the minstrel was obsoleted, and replaced by the troubadour – who introduced a new form of expression to the court. Many minstrels, out a job and a home, resorted to wandering, traveling from town to town and playing music in the street. The troubadour is most strongly associated with the High Middle Ages, a time period that began in the 12th century. Troubadours commonly touched on themes of chivalry, romance, and poetic fiction. The role of the troubadour died out promptly with the havoc brought about by the Black Plague in 1348.

Of course, England was not the only region of the world where music was being played at these times in history, and diverse musical styles emerged from different corners of the world, eventually broadening the musical umbrella to unthinkable boundaries. Today, the amalgamation of styles has allowed for genres inspired by varied experiences, and influenced by a large basket of earlier forms. Rock is a large umbrella in and of itself, influenced, by blues, country, jazz, gospel, folk, and more…and when really considered, the mind reels at the extent to which music has impacted human life through the ages. As for the role of the musician, much has changed…but much is as ever, too. The busker’s role is comparable to that of the traveling minstrel, playing on street corners for donations, telling stories of travel, hardship, and folklore. And like the troubadour, musicians continue to entertain leaders of government, aristocrats, and even the common man. We share in intimate musical experiences with friends, family, and loved ones. We play music for our own personal outlets of expression. We serenade prospective romantic partners with lyrical ballads, and take solace in music we can relate to. However music changes, and however it remains the same, it has always been a cherished aspect of the human experience, and always will be.

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