D. Scott Stewart
The year 2016 was a highly emotional one for fans of popular music. The deaths of musical artists such as Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Prince have left indelible marks on the lives of many around the world. Why do we feel such a loss over individuals with whom we have no direct connection? A common theory explaining this phenomenon is that we do not feel a loss because of any insightful, personal understanding of who that artist was, but because of how that artist and their music helped us understand ourselves. Throughout the course of history, people have struggled to answer the fundamental question of, “Who Am I?” How do we define ourselves and how do we want others to perceive us? Over the course of this seminar participants have discussed how we can explore the notion of “identity”. The seminar focused on the childhood through adolescent experience. At no other time in a person’s life does one search for a sense of identity, a sense of self, more than during adolescence. It is during the middle and high school years that youth are given opportunities to step outside of parental/guardian influence that had a significant impact shaping identity since birth. This is the first time our sense of self and our views on others’ identity are challenged. Youth are continually bombarded with information trying to influence identity for a myriad of sociological reasons. They are continually searching for and experimenting with the idea of identity, and their choices in music often reflects this chaos. To an outside observer this can indicate a psychological and emotional fragility as identity appears to change almost indiscriminately. Because of this it is not surprising many youth and young adults flounder through their middle, high school, and even early college years, unable to achieve a solid foundation on which to achieve stability when it comes to feeling confident in their identities. Youth often feel trapped or constrained by what they perceive as an immutable situation and seek out avenues through which they can support their journey towards an identity. During these formative years identities are often viewed by our students as concrete paradigms against which the struggle to break free can be in, and of itself, a way of declaring how we see ourselves and categorize others. My supposition is that while we can examine the concepts of identity through books, identity is also often expressed through our choices in music. There is an innate, natural connection between the written word and the aural experience in music. Combination of words, sentences, and entire pieces, particularly when discussing the genre of poetry, are often compared to elements of music, be it beat, rhythm, or flow. Music has the ability to help us understand ourselves intrinsically and to aid in grounding our feelings and thoughts in relation to events occurring in the world around us. Music is often seen as a safe way to both analyze and project one’s ideas and feelings. Music often supports what psychologist David Elkind refers to as “Personal Fable”. Elkind originally coined the term, “Personal Fable” 1967 and it is generally defined as a development during adolescence of a belief that the individual is unique or special with this view often being accompanied by feelings of invulnerability. Music supports the creation and projection of an outward facing persona that can, and often will morph as needed while creating bonds with others through a perceived common interest regardless of socio-economic status.