Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship and Music

Zite Ezeh                                                                                                                                      3 May, 2019

Friendship: Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics, and Art – Professor Mahallati

Response Paper 5

A field in which I see a heavy presence of friendship and community is the field of music. Music (as both an industry, and simply a combination of sounds) allows for the cultivation of real friendships and relationships for many reasons. The foremost reason being, in my opinion, that music naturally promotes collaboration between people. Nowadays, music is rarely a solo venture. Even songs that are done by single artists involve multiple people working together throughout the process of their creation. And setting aside the industry aspect, music all by itself promotes collaboration between people because it invites creative people into spaces where creativity is allowed to flow and build. People naturally want to add to, improve, build on, and rework ideas which they are inspired by. We see this in every field, but especially in music as people are constantly remixing and collaborating and building strong networks together. Such an environment emphasizes the importance of friendship because working together and forming strong ties is build into its fabric. And when people making music together are friends, the friendship is able to grow even stronger because they are sharing both the bond on being friends, and the bond of being a fan of each other’s work. Another important point is that of music naturally being something that brings us enjoyment and a sense of connection as humans. In class on Thursday, some people who work with music and its connection to friendship came in and demonstrated just that. We did activities involving music and rhythm that promoted trust and connection, and I think that being constantly surrounded by such an environment can only do the same, but to a higher degree.

An idea that arises in Nehamas’ work is that of the sweet spot; the idea that we as humans would not be able to tolerate anybody who was completely similar or completely different from us, and that there is a sweet spot somewhere in between absolute similarity and absolute difference where the possibility for friendship lies. In the realm of music, where people constantly collaborate and blend and mesh their work together, there is no form of music that is absolutely different from all others. Music is so interconnected between genres and all other dividers no matter how hard we may try to categorize it so as to better market and sell it. And because musicians themselves are generally quite well-versed with a lot of music (and not just the kind they may make), their realm of knowledge also expands and therefore reduces the chance of them coming across something that is ‘absolutely’ different from what they know. And even when musicians make covers of other people’s songs, recreating them with one’s own vision, the music still maintains its originality. That personal touch and voice that someone brings to their craft cannot be copied, no matter how people may try, and so in that vein, there is also a low chance of absolute similarity being present when it comes to music. This balance allows people involved in music to more easily form relationships with each other because there is a base connection off of which a relationship can be build, but there is also so much to learn from each other still.

Another of Nehamas’ big points in his book, On Friendship, was that of legalism. Nehamas believed that legalism is bad for friendship, and in our class we talked about the juxtaposition of extreme legalism in the west and legal extremism in the east. In the case of the west and extreme legalism, it has, unfortunately, gotten to the point where legalism is involved in almost every sphere of life, including music. In terms of music as an industry, legalism is very imbedded into it—especially in the form of record labels that limit people’s creativity and what they are allowed to do and explore with their craft. Despite all of this though, there is still so much music working to fight that pressure and music that exists outside of record labels and the reach of legalism in the realm of music. There are numerous artist that refuse to sign and decide instead to stay true to the heart of their craft, which allows for others listening to have a more honest connection to the artist. Even if the music industry is riddled with legalism, music itself cannot be bound by our laws, and so people will continue to subvert the norms and create work that inspires others.

Today, in the 21st century, another important aspect to relationship forming and community building is the internet. There are many people who believe that the internet has negatively impacted people’s ability to seek out and form real, long-lasting friendships, but in class, we posed the Nehamas-inspired question of whether the internet could be ‘reawakening our desire for friendship, rather than undermining it’. The internet gives us the opportunity to make more connections than we otherwise would be able to, the question though, is whether or not we will follow through and continue these relationships in real life rather than leaving them solely online. We as humans did not evolve to be solitary creatures or online creatures; we evolved to live in communities. We are meant to be codependent and to rely on each other, and it is our responsibility to make sure that we prioritize that. Especially in a world that makes it easy to think only of what we don’t have and to forget about what is real and right in front of us. Nehamas says that friendship is what makes up the structure of the soul, and if that is true, then friendship is of the utmost importance, and it would be well in our interests to prioritize it in not only our daily interactions with each other, but also in the way we structure our societies.

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