Pre-requisite: A Brief Explanation of Western Culture


This blog attempts to chronicle history and music—particularly where they interact with the Catholic religion—in an uncomplicated manner. With that said, I still intend for this material to be a challenge to the reader. Because of this, I wish to introduce a couple of basic concepts that need to be understood. Much of the writing in this blog should be viewed through the lens of this information.

Firstly, we are talking about a field of music study that deals exclusively with Western Music. Lets talk about what that means. It has nothing to do with folk or country music. In the days before America was discovered and colonized, most people thought of the world as one big continent Europe/Africa/Asia. Okay, actually most people in Europe weren’t really aware of Africa or Asia. The people who lived in those lands looked different and had customs that meant little to the average European. That meant that as far as they were concerned the world was just Europe, from Ireland in the West to Russia in the East. Please refer to this map of Europe.


Therefore, Western music refers to the music traditions of the people living in the countries West of the Ural River. This definition is not set in stone and there is definite overlap between the two cultures. The countries that are generally accepted as being in Western Europe are Ireland, Great Britain, France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and Belgium. This is the music that is studied in classical music conservatories around the world. There are many other music traditions but Western Music is the only tradition that has been institutionalized in most countries (even countries outside the West).


The next important piece of information that should be understand by the readers of this blog is that there was once a nation known as The Roman Empire. (See image below.) This empire is staggeringly important to the history of the West. The capital was in Rome and it stretched out in all directions and incorporated almost all of Europe, parts or the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The national language was Latin although Greek was commonly spoken in other parts of the Empire. It was a vast superpower that exercised supreme dominion until the 4th or 5th century AD when it fell. When this happened people looked to smaller local governments to lead them. By the modern era we can recognize the nations that make up Europe today.


The point is that Europe is united by a common ancestral culture that unified government, politics, and religion to create a fairly homogenous society. This ancestral culture was brought to the Americas by European explorers to the New World. As an example of this, the symbol of the Roman Empire was a powerful eagle perched with it wings outstretched. Take a look at the back of a U.S. quarter and you will see that we have inherited this symbol of power. You can see the comparison below. In the coming weeks I will continue with discussions on Western Catholic music in the Medieval period and other related thoughts. The two concepts addressed in this post are useful tools in getting more out of the blog.


eagle-roman-coin-vespasian-76ad-1 US-Quarter-back

Above you can see the back of the Roman coin under the Emperor Vespasian and modern US Quarter

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