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Timeline: When Music Changed The World

What significant role has music played in our history, current culture and in our joint, hopeful future?
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What significant role has music played in our history, current culture and in our joint, hopeful future?

Over the years we’ve talked about a lot different subjects and explored the development of music throughout history. We’ve had deep discussions about where music comes from and what music is. We’ve looked at the ways music touches our lives and influences our health and behavior. We’ve explored the ancient past and modern practice. However, over the past few months I’ve been asking a question, “so what?” What does all of this mean? Maybe a better question is, for what? What is this exploration for?


I stumbled across a forum online; it was a simple thread asking a simple question, when has music changed the world? Intrigued, I started reading and my heart sank. There was response after response of individuals saying that music hasn’t changed the world. Now, some said that music has influenced them, personally, but they still thought that music itself hasn’t brought about real societal change.

In contrast, there are numerous articles describing the top 10 songs that changed the world or the 30 most influential artists of all time. But, reading these articles, you would think that music sprang into being in the 20th Century or that “the world” is limited to American or European popular music and the modern recording industry. Millennia of musical practice from every culture feels ignored or unseen.

If you can’t tell, I take issue with this because music has changed the world, over and over again. That is to say that the expression of music has affected society for good and for evil, in every time period and in every culture. So, we’re going to spend quite a bit of time, energy and episodes exploring various ways that society has been influenced by music, musicians and musical expression. We will expand on past episodes, look at old tales in new ways, we’ll tell stories from the ancient past and recent history. We’ll even look to the future, as individuals are using music to create a new world.

As we begin this exploration we need to set a few guidelines. First, these examples should not just be about how music has developed over time. Music itself can evolve without influencing the culture at large. No, these examples are about music stepping into society and bringing about tangible change. Second, this list will not and cannot be exhaustive; there is no way of knowing all the ways that music has shaped what it means to be human or in a community together. This series is about making a case for music’s significance in our history, current culture and in our joint, hopeful future.

So join us as we explore when music changed the world and follow the Timeline at

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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