Huron, David. "Science & Music: Lost in music." Nature (22 May 2008), 453, pg. 456-457. Web. 6 December 2011.
"Linguists know how fast languages disappear. Musical cultures may be an order of magnitude more fragile. It will be many centuries before the whole world speaks Mandarin. Meanwhile Western music has swept the globe faster than aspirin...We have perhaps just a decade or so before everyone on the planet has been brought up with Western music or its derivatives."
Homogenization of music across the world makes the task of a cognitive neuroscientist studying music more difficult. Do we perceive certain intervals as dissonant because of how our ears have been trained by environmental (cultural) stimuli, or are the intervals inherently dissonant to our ears because of our biological make-up? Is major naturally perceived as “happy” and minor naturally perceived as “sad?” If everyone in the world is exposed to the same styles of music, we won’t have any way to compare different musical languages to find ways to answer these sorts of questions. We won’t be able to discern whether “a behaviour [is] an innate cognitive disposition, or just an artefact of westernization.”
Other rich musical cultures are alive and well throughout the world, but people in countries such as China and India are constantly exposed to Western music, which infiltrates the music of those cultures. If we can study the music of those cultures in their non-Westernized forms now, we will probably gain more insight into the question of nature vs. nurture in the cognitive neuroscience of music.
In the same way some conscientious growers choose to plant heirloom seeds instead of the homogenized varieties more easily available, we should do what we can to encourage musicians across the world to maintain their musical cultures, and not only for the benefit of cognitive neuroscientists. Just as I often learn more through collaboration with a colleague with a different perspective from my own, the world benefits from the diversity of its cultures. Variety is the spice of life, as the old adage goes, and I’d rather not live in a bland world.