The human animal is in essence a pretty simple thing when you peel away all the leisure suits and sunglasses. It’s really just stimulus and reaction that you can break down into five basic pieces:
Reaction: seek shelter
Stimulus: big animal looking at me knows I’m made out of food
There’s another stimulus and reaction that makes sure the race continues and we won’t go into the details of that (this is after all a family show), but we’re built to make little versions of us. Nookie feels good. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it and the world would soon be run by cockroaches. There’s a lot of chemical stuff going on that moves the human animal from “Grunt…you pretty” all the way to “Grunt…it’s a girl. Mazel tov” and it’s all specifically designed for procreation. Yay us.
Nowhere in the stimulus and reaction list do we find “fun” or “pleasure” (not including the procreation bit). It’s simply not necessary for survival of either the individual or the species so how did we end up with things to smile about? And how did music and singing happen? That’s WAY not necessary for survival and, on the surface, serves no purpose.
I ain’t no scientist but I can imagine that things might have gone like this…
Let’s look at the first thing, simple pleasure. I can easily picture the first vestiges of it appearing when one of the senses hit on something above the basic need.
Stimulus: hungry, reaction: eat, but THAT food hits my tastebuds and I like it. If our neanderthal lived near the ocean I bet salt blew his mind.
Stimulus: cold, reaction: seek shelter, but the feeling of the warmth of the sun on my face feels nice and I like it. The first time lightning struck a tree nearby and set it on fire was probably an eye-opener (after he screamed and ran and then came back out of curiosity).
Touching a rock is rough, touching fur is soft and I like it. Still nothing earth-shattering but the first steps toward the evolution of fun and pleasure. I do the things I like because I like them, not necessarily because they’re necessary.
Using the assumption that the basis of music is rhythm, how did we get there? It may have been the result of something as simple as making noise to scare away a predator (see “made out of food” above) by banging a stick on a rock. There’s a steady speed that would be determined by the weight of the stick and the strength of the banger and that would quickly become a rhythm and that could easily become something in the “I like it” category (it’s got a beat and I can dance to it, etc.).
It’s not at all a stretch to mix in the recognition of, and mimicking of, the sounds of nature. The calls of birds, the bleating of sheep, the list is long. Combine rhythm and sound and you find music and the sense of order that it brings. Synchronization also brings pleasure at some level, I would think. Order seems much more fun than chaos. (Unless you’re a tenor…they enjoy exactly the opposite.)
One of the things that we’ve learned in our years of singing music from around the world is that every culture had to have started in much the same way as the others and then they each went their own way. The music of Africa is based on sound and rhythm just as the music of Native Americans is and there are plenty of similarities but they found their own paths to very different results. Isn’t it interesting how virtually all of the music in the world sits on top of very similar simple rhythms? The layers that have been built on top go in different directions but at the end of the day we’re all just hitting a rock with a stick because it’s fun.