Music In Our Lives

Review of “Music In Our Lives” by Jonathan L. Friedmann

When my friend, Jonathan L. Friedmann, offered to send me a copy of his new book “Music In Our Lives: Why We Listen, How It Works“, I was thrilled. Jonathan’s knowledge of music comes from both his scholarship in the field and from knowing what music making is about from the inside out. Yes, he’s both a researcher/teacher of music history (notably including history that’s “in the making” right now) and composer/performer of music, notably as a cantor. His WordPress blog demonstrates week-after-week that he is stellar at connecting current research in a vast number of fields (anything from sociology to neuroscience) to human experience as a music listener or performer.

Music In Our LivesAs it turns out, much of this book is composed of reprints from his blog posts. Any contemporary reader knows that this is a common approach these days for book writers of both non-fiction and fiction. Friedmann does a masterful job of categorizing the original posts into categories which became the chapters of “Music In Our Lives”. There are 20 of these, each with its endnotes and ample suggestions for further reading. If that’s not enough, check out the full bibliography and index at the end. It’s quite impressive and thorough.

Each chapter starts with an introduction paragraph tieing the posts that follow together into a more integrated whole. Once I realized that these were the posts that I had previously read on Friedmann’s Thinking On Music blog, I longed with expectation to find some of the ones I remembered best or pondered which chapter I’d find a particular favorite in. Other than the most recent posts, they were all there.

Knowing that these were originally blog posts, it was easy to understand why certain references would re-appear as if the reader had never heard of them. For example, the “auditory cheesecake” theory of Steven Pinker is mentioned at least twice. On the second mention, there is no indication that the reader might remember the previous reference to it. The point is just that, given the original source, this makes sense.

This brought me to a realization of how I would recommend this book to you: rather than taking the book as a whole and reading from the front cover to the back of the index, I would recommend that you use it as a source of daily or occasional inspiration. And I tell you this because this is how I’ll be using “Music In Our Lives” over the coming year. When you are pondering a question about music (or life) and especially if you are a musician yourself, pick this book up when you need a bit of coaxing or need some connections with another thinking musician. Today, I notice that I’ve had music playing in the background more than usual, so I open to Chapter 16: “Listening”. I read the introductory paragraph and the post headings within the chapter and choose “Comfort Music” to read today. In it, Friedmann says, “Having a special attachment to certain sounds is less about stubbornness or fear of change, and more about seeking refuge from the clutter and stress that confront us daily.” It’s perfect. On days that I need more, I’ll turn to the “further reading” at the end and get even more inspiration.

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