There is one important part of culture that brings me both joy and frustration; that is music. There is a lot of it, but most of it is very hard to find. What I mean is there is an ever-expanding list of types of music and musical genres. There are types of music that don’t even make it to lists of music.
When I ponder my relationship to music, I automatically think of the Buddhist concept of “Hungry Ghost” or “Preta”. A Preta is a suffering creature with a large, empty stomach, a tiny mouth, and a neck so thin that it cannot swallow anything. It exists in a constant state of hunger.
Of course, in my case, I have a yearning for exotic or various types of musical sounds. I only have human ears and a limited time on Earth in which to satisfy this desire. To keep my hungry ghost in check, I center myself with a few, core musical genres. These are the mental, musical places to which I return after brief forays to unfamiliar musical styles. I have two basic genres as home, classical and electronic. They are my hungry ghost’s comfort foods.
If we “only” limit ourselves to modern, commercially available western style music, we find more than enough individual categories to keep us busy for an entire lifetime. At their height of popularity, even the best brick and mortar record stores couldn’t handle every genre and sub-genre of western music. The stores had to generalize and then focus on just a few of the best selling genres.
We can look over a list of western music and get lost in styles. I’ll pick some, at random: Jam Bands, Grind Core, Post Punk, Adult-Oriented Rock, classic Tex-Mex, Barbershop standards, Gregorian Chants, Traditional vocal Jazz, Australia, Zydeco, Japanese Pop, Gospel, India Pop, Hawaiian, Country/Western, Opera, New Age, Folk, World/Beat, Experimental, Electronica, College Rock, Easy Listening. The vast majority of musical genres are not on this list.
If a person could bring home one record or CD from each alphabetical cubbyhole in a conventional record store, she would have music to last through years of listening if she played each disk all the way through only one time apiece, 24/7.
If that person had the financial ability to bring home one record or CD from the rest of the cultural and regional genres, she would need a large room in which to store it all. I only need to list several to give an idea as to the breadth and scope of music to be found around the world.
We can list it by ethnicity, such as Russian, Irish, Maori, Cambodian, Bedouin, Afro-Latin, Sami, or Basque. Find a region on Earth, and there is a particular music for each place. Think Kongo, Dogon, or Zulu in Africa. Even in North America, I can think of regional First Nations music such as Sioux, Omaha, or Chippewa. We can find religious genres and subgenres like Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Islam, Zoroastrianism, or Judaism.
I could flesh out this blog post by listing genres that correspond to nearly every nation on Earth. Multiply those genres by the musical styles found in regions, or sub-national places like provinces and states. For instance, each Province and Territory in Canada has its own particular approach to music. Even areas within areas have sub-sub-genres.
Remembering that there is enough music to fill several lifetimes, helps me keep my hungry ghost in check. I feel sad about the fact that most of my friends do not listen to the kinds of music that I do. I feel glad that somewhere on Earth, somebody else is listening to the same song I’m hearing.
Fortunately, we all can explore samples of various genres of music by utilizing the Web. Although each and every type of music is not yet on the Internet, There is enough to keep a person busy for many hours.
Some music will sound pleasing to the ear, other music, especially that with non-western scales, will take some getting used to. The experiences will expand the mind and enhance our empathy towards other people. I have a double CD set of Afghani Folk songs. I didn’t care for it, at first. Now, even though the CDs are not in regular use, I have a better appreciation for the culture of Afghanistan.
Just for an experiment, choose a musical genre you’ve never heard of nor considered hearing. Select some foreign music from the Web and seriously listen to it. Pay attention to your emotional reaction to it. You’ll not only learn something about the world, you’ll find out something about yourself.