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Overview of Music - VALUE OF STUDYING EGYPTIAN MUSIC., SECULAR ISSUES AND MUSIC., RELIGIOUS ISSUES AND MUSIC HISTORY.

musical life egyptians tomb

h2>IRRETRIEVABLE LOSS.

Music is sound organized in time. All humans naturally make music, and most societies throughout history organized sound in a way that we would call music. To judge by the popularity of scenes of music making in Egyptian tombs, temples, and a few houses, the Egyptians loved music. Yet of all Egyptian arts, music is the most difficult to reconstruct. Neither the sounds of melodies nor rhythms are recoverable, and scholars have yet to uncover evidence that would allow them to reconstruct the sounds made by the musical instruments represented by ancient artists or discovered by modern archaeologists. The Egyptians never described their music in the texts that they wrote, though there are some references to music and musicians in Egyptian literature. The Greeks, who admired Egyptian music along with other aspects of this culture, described only the last stages of Egyptian history; even these descriptions can be inaccurate or based on misconceptions stemming from the Greeks’ projections of their own ideas of music on a foreign culture. The absence of musical notation from ancient Egyptian culture—a surprising reality given the fact that Egyptians were among the first to write words—means the sound of Egyptian music is irretrievably lost to modern ears.


VALUE OF STUDYING EGYPTIAN MUSIC.


Nevertheless, a study of the surviving evidence of a vibrant Egyptian musical culture is still valuable. Archaeological examples of musical instruments; numerous representations in relief, painting, or sculpture of musicians and music making; and occasional references to music in Egyptian literature serve as the basis for a study of Egyptian musical life. In addition, the lyrics to songs, many of which the Egyptians recorded in tombs and papyrus, make it possible to imagine musical forms, even if the sounds cannot be reconstructed. Egyptian music spanned both the secular and religious arenas, including temple life, work situations, leisure time activities such as banquets, and even Egyptian sexuality. As such, a careful study of music yields clues into the workings and values of this ancient society, illuminating such disparate topics as gender and class issues, institutional organization, professionalization of some activities, and foreign relations, in addition to such religious issues as the role of deities in musical life and the insights about the afterlife provided through the study of lyrics.


SECULAR ISSUES AND MUSIC.


The nature of archeological evidence largely prevents scholars from examining ancient Egyptian society outside of a religious context. Most of what is known about this culture comes from the remains of temples and tombs, both of which are religious structures. Therefore, the representations of Egyptian secular life depicted in tomb drawings and carvings serve a greater religious purpose that can make it difficult to draw accurate conclusions. Egyptians selected as topics for their tomb drawings the best from life on earth in order to perpetuate a better version of earthly life in the next world. A tomb depiction of field laborers singing happily about the success and joy inherent in their work, for example, is by no means an accurate depiction of the drudgery of Egyptian agricultural life but an idealized one for the next life from the standpoint of the well-to-do. Aside from the evidence of archaeological examples of musical instruments, all that can be known about Egyptian music comes from representations in either temples or tombs. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the types of songs recorded in these tomb scenes greatly differed from earthly reality. Tomb carvings of Egyptian banquets show musical ensembles performing for elegantly dressed men and women as they dined. While such a carving conveys a wish for food and entertainment in the next world, it is reasonable to assume that the general structure of a banquet with music reflects the banquets Egyptians knew on earth. A study of music also enables scholars to study Egyptian eroticism. The Egyptians, like other peoples, considered music an aphrodisiac. Numerous scenes in a papyrus preserved at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, depict impassioned couples with musical instruments nearby. A close examination of the musicians themselves in tomb and temple scenes can illuminate gender and class issues. The association of women and men with particular instruments in segregated ensembles hints at Egyptian gender relations, and a study of Egyptian bureaucratic titles associated with music allows scholars to learn about the institutional organizations associated with music. For example, it is clear that a musical bureau called the khener was responsible for organizing and performing music at both secular and religious events. Finally, it is possible to observe the extent of Egyptian contact with foreign cultures by examining the import of both foreign musical instruments and musicians into Egypt. Foreign musicians, for example, played at the court of Akhenaten, king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The study of Egyptian music thus relates to numerous secular issues in Egyptian history.


RELIGIOUS ISSUES AND MUSIC HISTORY.


The study of Egyptian music also illuminates strictly religious issues. The role of deities in musical life illustrates that some Egyptian deities could be associated with music without actually being a “god of” music. For example, in most periods a representation of the goddess Hathor’s head tops the sistrum, a sacred rattle played in the worship of all gods, and her temple at Dendera had columns designed to resemble the instrument. Despite the close association with music, however, Hathor did not function as a muse of music in the pantheon. Music was, however, essential to worship. The Egyptian sage Any claimed that playing music for a god was as important for his/her worship as food and incense. The lyrics from Egyptian songs are also very telling in the deciphering of Egyptian religious beliefs. A study of the lyrics of the harpists’ songs carved in tombs and on stelae (standing stone slabs with inscriptions) indicates that the Egyptians used music to consider the nature of life after death in a non-ritual setting, giving voice to both their fears and their hopes for the next world. In this way, the study of Egyptian music adds immeasurably to an understanding of Egyptian culture, even though the actual sound of music from ancient Egypt is lost.

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