Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship in Music

Since music classes in elementary school, music has enhanced my life and my friendships. It began in choir where there was no instrument required, only a passion for singing Christmas songs to please our parents. In middle school I moved on to playing the trombone and that’s where I began to fall in love with music. Through the trombone, I would focus all of my energy and produce a full and brilliant sound. I stayed because of the friends I made. My fellow trombone players were my closest friends because we spent the most time together. In high school, our band would take trips to the other side of Washington State and my friends and I would spend the whole weekend playing music, listening to other groups, and spending time with each other doing something we loved.

Music is just one way that friends are brought together and it reminds me of the Aristotelian concepts of friendship. Perhaps playing music with someone starts out as one of the first two types of friendship that Aristotle describes—friendships based on utility and pleasure. If someone wishes to start a chamber orchestra, they will do so by asking musicians who can provide the services they want: skill and the correct instrument. Even if musical friendship starts out as superficial, as the product of utility, music can effectively enhance and facilitate friendship. According to Chris Jenkins lecture, “music performance enhances pro-social behavior and attitudes” while listening to music in groups “enhances social cohesion.” This is largely thought to be attributed to oxytocin and endorphins, but also linked to eye contact and increased trust. Trust is a big factor, and I think is very similar to team sports. I’ve played both individual and team sports, and I’ve found it difficult to trust the skill of others. In high pressure settings of musical performances or sports matches, the friendship must be one of utility first because without an equal level of skill, or a skill that can contribute, there is not an equal sharing of responsibility. However, utility friendship is still in the basement of friendship and if I’ve learned anything from this semester, it’s been that we need friendship plus! The best sports teams are the ones that facilitate authentic friendship between teammates. As far as music goes, I can only assume that the same is true—that when all the musicians are empathic and emotionally tuned in to each other, they can perform the music even better. Music is not just about performance. Music is also about creating and facilitating friendship in that way. While playing music together can enhance friendship and create bonds between the performers, creating sounds of friendship, music born from friendship, is perhaps even more powerful. Performance affects the friendship of the musicians, but the creation of music from friendship has the potential to impact the listeners as well.

To tie up the story of my musical career: I continued playing trombone into my first year at Oberlin with the professor here. I stopped my second year for a number of reasons—the main reason being that I didn’t have the community I had in high school. I wasn’t officially in the conservatory or any groups on campus, and so playing the trombone became solely about just that. In recent years my focus shifted from music to rugby, but I am sure that the future will have more music and friendship in store.

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