Last night, Steve and I were the guests of my boss at a performance of the Arabesque Music Ensemble. These five accomplished musicians play classical music from the Arabic tradition using a mix of oriental and western instruments. It's not something that we probably would have gone to see on our own (mostly because we're lazy and don't like to leave the house), but I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to go. The music itself was beautiful, but I had the most fun watching the people in the audience for whom this represents part of their culture. These were clearly songs that they all knew and shared as a community; all coming together to clap during certain segments and singing certain phrases. It was just so joyful.
On the way home, Steve and I talked about the differences between this music and music of our own culture. For me, the clearest difference was that for them, it is more common for music to be something that is done within the community and within the family. There is little separation between the performers and the spectators; one could be either or both at any point. But, for us, it is more common for there to be a division between those who make music and those who listen to it. Music is made by those on stage while I sit quietly in the audience and listen. Obviously, there are exceptions within western culture: blues, jazz, and more recently hip-hop, but within our own personal communities this was the case. There was never a point in either of our childhoods where friends and neighbors came together to make music with each other for no other reason than because it brought joy. The songs that we remember from our childhood are not songs that we actively participated in, but songs that were generated by pop stars and that we passively consumed through the radio. This is something that we'd like to change when we have our own children. We hope that music is a part of our family's daily life and that our children feel free to explore and enjoy it in a way that is participatory, empowering, and joyful.