Monday, October 18, 2010

Take Care of it Son. This Was Your Grandfather's Flute.

Boston Globe Article:

    The recent discovery of a 40,000 year old bone-crafted flute on an archeological dig in Germany has begun to raise questions about music's place in the development of the modern human mind.  The oldest previously discovered instruments were no older than 30,000 years old.  The flute's discovery suggests that music was an important part of pre-historic human life.  There has been much debate surrounding the place of music in human evolutionary history.  While some believe that music is simply a byproduct of other cognitive functions like language, others believe that music is distinct and may have even pre-dated language.  The bone flute discovery has certainly advanced the position of the latter.  Nicholas Conard, a professor of early pre-history involved with the finding, claims that a culture rich in music may have an indirect survival advantage.  Such cultures likely shared better social ties and communication. Additionally, the flute itself is physical evidence of innovation.  Conard also notes that there may have been something like a "cultural arms race" between Neanderthals and modern humans.  "Neanderthals had perfectly good behavioural strategies, but tended to be culturally more conservative, and modern humans were more flexible and creative."  Music played on a replica of the flute can be found in the video and article listed above.

    The German bone flute is an exiting find for musicians and music educators who believe that music is an integral part of human life.  The fact that such an old flute exists suggests that the first vocal music probably dates back even further.  The age of the flute, combined with studies that show music and language are primarily housed in different parts of the brain, supports the theory that music is a distinct brain function and evolved independently of language.  Professor Conards observation that the modern human beat out Neanderthals in the "cultural arms race" supports the notion that innovation is more important to survival than brute strength. It stands to reason then that education in a creative artistic practice like music is extremely beneficial.  Those who make decisions about the importance (or irrelevance) of music programs in schools should take into account music's long history aiding human development before cutting programs to save money.

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