Musical Identity Crisis of the Confused Generation in Iran

In the past decades Iran has gone through several social, cultural and ethical changes including constant changes in the policies regarding music production, education and performance. Aida Khorsandi is a musician and music instructor who considers herself as belonging to a confused generation of young Iranians. She tells us about the effects of Iran’s social changes on her generation and the status of popular music in Iran.

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Cultural factors are influential in different stages of identity formation. Regarding the advent of technology and ease of access to music and production, music—as an art and a cultural factor—has become highly influential in people’s individual and private life, and their identity-related development and social life. Recently many studies have explained the function of music in everyday life and mood regulation, but the study of music from socio-psychological approach is not very well-developed yet. Based on previous studies, musical taste and identity is dependent on various factors which are most affected during adolescence and youth. As studies suggest individual’s musical preference (taste) forms between the ages of 11 and 22. The family’s musical background, prior musical education, peer-group musical preferences, society’s norms and also personality characteristics influence the formation of musical preferences and identities.

Explanations of the influential factors in the formation of musical identity are numerous and this article is not the place for it. There are detailed accounts out there explaining them. This article aims to propose one of the Iranian society’s issues related to music, which has been criticised by sociologists, musicians, and musicologists: the musical preferences and identity crisis of the younger generation. This generation was born during the mid-70s to mid-90s and I will call it the ‘confused generation’. One would argue that the numerous criticisms of the musical taste, identity and education of Iranian youngsters might be justified, even though the confused generation shouldn’t take all the blame. This crisis can be due to inappropriate policies, problems and barriers in music production, education and performance.

Nowadays popular music plays a crucial role in the construction of a society’s identity. This is because of the development of the media and modern communication methods in 20th Century. Although the impact of popular music might not seem appealing to music educators and professionals, there is no escape from the great influence of the media, commercials and investments. Thus popular music has huge cultural and commercial functionality and benefits and it has a pervasive role in youth cultural identity construction.

Back to the main topic, the mentioned generation in Iran spent their childhood and adolescence in a time that the policies regarding music production, education and performance were changing and uncertain, and were undergoing different social and political streams. If we put musicians and enthusiastic families aside, we see children and adolescents that were confused about their cultural identity. This generation had experienced many changes in society, cultural and ethical uncertainties and paradoxes during their adolescence and youth. They had little access to cultural and, especially, musical products and this limited access was not only because of a lack of resources but also the restrictive policies. In the absence of popular music production, no proper musical material existed that played an iconic role in the formation of young generation’s taste.

The alternative resource for this generation was older popular music that belonged to their parents’ generation. This music consisted of concepts, concerns, stories and nostalgia of an older generation, who had lived their youth in a different time with a different political and social system. Some of those concepts were different and dissimilar to the present day’s concerns and issues. As a consequence this retro identity construction resulted in the emergence of a retrograde musical and emotional identity. The confused generation took refuge in their parents’ fears and ideas. The lyrics and literature in the older popular music was also retrograde. The confused generation yearned for anything musical; any type of unknown music became attractive, even if it didn’t fit the present day realities. In addition to that and because of the same restrictions, music education was also being ignored and neglected. Even though music education was accessible privately, it was not accessible and pervasive enough for most people. Thus it could not fulfil the needs of the confused generation. When music became more accessible (because of the access to the Internet), the confused generation desperately approached the resource, yearning for something new, regardless of its quality and neglecting its consistency.

A ‘Musicless’ generation immerses itself into any type of music and hangs onto an insufficient out-of-tune popular music. Confused and needy for a collective identity, forming its identity with retrograde popular music, this generation doesn’t know music. High quality preferences cannot be expected from an uneducated and confused generation. The Musicless generation is not capable of evaluating the badly produced music. It has been poorly nurtured, and it has immersed itself in anything called ‘music’, regardless of its generation’s concerns and needs.

Originally published on Underline Magazine 

Infants and the musical beat

If you are living in a big family, or you just adore children, you might have noticed some of these phenomena:

• Infants pay attention to the music on TV.

• Everybody talk to infants like a Soprano Opera Singer, in a high pitch and with exaggerated expressions.

• Infants attentively react to these types of communication and look very interested

• If the infant senses aggression in the tone, they might start to cry. Some may even respond with a disapproving outcry.

• If held close to the sound of music or that of somebody singing, the infant starts to actually ‘dance’!

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Parents might have noticed and experienced all of these reactions and assumed that their child was very talented and smart. This is correct in some ways and wrong in others: the ability to communicate and respond to the environment shows that the infant is probably healthy and possesses an appropriate level of comprehension and understanding. But the assumption that the infant, who reacts and dances to the music, has talent in music is a myth. Why? The answer is as follows.

In the mother’s womb, in addition to the chemicals and food from her body, a foetus receives stimuli from the outside environment. The physical stimuli that the infant receives are movement and sound. They feel the movement, and move themselves, and they ‘hear’ voices from inside and outside of the mother’s body— the heartbeat and the mother’s voice from inside (due to the vibrations of her speech within her body), and environmental sounds and other people’s voices from the outside world. Sound is an infant’s only non-chemical connection to the outside world. Vision and tactile senses appear after birth. Therefore, infants show significant reactions to sound: they move their head to find the source of sound; they react to their mother’s voice and every sudden sound. The auditory sense is normally more sensitive in infants than adults and they can hear a wider range of frequencies. Although this ability decays as they become older.

Infants react to music. Some types of music can make them cry and with some they start to move and enjoy themselves. What is the process? Has the infant actually learned to dance during 9-10 months or a year or is it because they receive social rewards and encouragement when dancing to music?

Indeed, to move to music is a human instinct. Although social rewards and encouragement do have influence on an infants’ reaction to the beat of music, it is not the primary reason for them to move and tap to the beat. A study* which investigated this phenomenon can be summarised as follows:

Infants between 5 to 24 months and from two different nationalities were chosen to take part in an experiment along with their parents. The infants were sat on their parent’s laps to avoid separation anxiety and also for them to move the detectable parts of their body (e.g. hands, upper body) so the researchers would be able to track the infant’s movements accurately. The parents were wearing headphones so that they were prevented from hearing the music and avoid any possible unconscious tapping and moving to the music. The infants were exposed to excerpts of classical music, children’s music, rhythmic patterns and also two types of speech: normal adult speech and infant-directed speech.

The results showed that infants detect the beat in music and move to the regular beat of the music. Although the complexity of rhythmic changes and also the speed can influence their reactions, they do it without any help or actual learning. In addition, it was suggested that the infants’ attention and reaction to music was higher than that to mere speech (even their own parents’ speech). Indeed, the infants dancing to the beat is related to a human’s innate ability of entrainment, in which we ‘sync’ our movements with others. To understand this ability, imagine being at a rock concert; is it only the music forcing you to move or is it also the flow of the crowd? You can detect entrainment in rituals as well. If you have taken part in the Shiite Moharram ritual, you will have noticed that people, tapping on their heart, is a form of entrainment, it is formed by the beat and the synchronisation is extraordinary. This example can also be seen in Kurdish ritual dances, in which very large crowds dance around a circle, people are in sync with the music and most importantly with each other, and this is rooted in the instinctive synchronisation with the environment, they have never been taught how to do this.

* Zentner, M., & Eerola, T. (2010). Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(13), 5768-5773.

This article is originally published on Underline Magazine