The following is an excerpt from my graduate dissertation, completed for the Master of Philosophy Degree from Cambridge University, in 2012.
Part One: A Multidisciplinary Approach
Music and the Sciences
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to name a society without an embedded musical heritage. As Daniel Levitin, former record producer and now neuroscientist, describes it, “Music is unusual among all human activities for both its ubiquity and its antiquity. No known human culture now or anytime in the recorded past lacked music.” New discoveries about how the brain connects so strongly with music continue to abound; this helps explain the increasing momentum behind interdisciplinary studies such as those Levitin has pioneered in the fields of music and neuroscience. The ramifications for such a multidisciplinary approach to music’s relationship with the brain are manifold and will provide fertile ground for advancements in understanding the uniquely human obsession with music.
Multidisciplinary approaches to music are beneficial not only in the realm of so-called ‘hard’ science, but also in the social sciences, and particularly sociology and anthropology. How distinct societies engage with music sheds light on their most fundamental communal practices; knowledge of a community’s music and people’s relationship with music often leads to an enhanced understanding of the cultural values that community reveres. One immediate way to recognize this is in linguistics: in many communities outside the Western world, the word for “music” includes what we in the West would define as “dance”; the terms are not distinct from one another and thus reflect the importance of physical motion as associated with musical practice. Knowledge of musical traditions, when combined with a broader cultural perspective, awards greater awareness and appreciation of the nuances that shape a place, its people, and even its politics.
Music and Politics
The relationship between music and politics has been subject to little scholarly exploration, despite its wide applicability to thought and process. Music, one of the most fundamental aspects of every culture, has the ability to represent a nation’s cultural values and political ideologies. Music’s diplomatic potential is illustrated in its ability to reach beyond the common medium of political meetings and forums, in which discussions are scripted and certain outcomes expected. In such politically prescribed forums, as Ian Wellens would say, one is merely preaching to the already converted segment of the intellectual sphere. Music, on the other hand, provides a way for diverse political bodies to engage simultaneously in an activity that provokes multifaceted responses; music effectively creates a new channel through which to communicate and absorb cultural and political ideas.
Few would argue that national anthems and protest songs represent explicitly political music. Instrumental music can also express political ideas, as in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony No. 7, which was written in the context of the city’s siege by the German Wehrmacht and reflects political tensions intra-musically. Performing Richard Wagner’s instrumental music in Israel is political in its societal impact, given Wagner’s well-documented anti-Semitism. Wagner’s music was also used propagandistically in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi campaigns, a highly politicized byproduct of his music. When Daniel Barenboim, leader of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, conducted Wagner’s music in a concert in Israel in July 2001, it is not surprising that the reaction was largely negative and the gesture seen as a threatening political move. Music mixes with politics in interesting ways, but such intersections have often been overlooked in scholarly analysis. This study therefore proceeds on largely uncharted territory, in hopes of providing grounding for music’s viability as a cultural diplomatic tool in contemporary international relations.
Is music a viable instrument in cultural politics? While a glance at the international stage today may suggest not, the twentieth century offers ample evidence to the contrary. In fact, music has played, and can continue to play, a distinct and efficacious role in international politics through methods of cultural diplomacy. Since the end of the Cold War, cultural diplomatic programming has declined markedly, with musical activities simultaneously all but vanishing from the sphere. Yet it was during the Cold War that musical diplomacy saw its ‘golden age,’ led by the United States in its campaigns to soothe tensions with the Soviet Union and promote American ideals in Europe and elsewhere. Arguably the pre-eminent bilateral relationship in contemporary international politics is that between the U.S. and China. Is music a feasible candidate for creating common ground upon which to build a more positive relationship? Can musical diplomacy be reinvigorated to address today’s need for enhanced cross-cultural understanding? This study addresses these questions and provides historical grounding for the use of music as a diplomatic tool, showing that music’s applicability is not only possible but may be uniquely valuable in twenty-first century cultural diplomacy.
 Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music (London: Atlantic Books, 2006), 5-6.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ian Wellens, Music on the Frontline: Nicolas Nabokov’s Struggle Against Communism and Middlebrow Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).
 Roland Bleiker, “Of Things We Hear but Cannot See: Musical Explorations of International Politics,” in Resounding International Relations ed. M.I. Franklin (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 182. This political engagement in music came at a high price for Shostakovich, as the Soviet government lashed out with a public decree of the profanity of the symphony. Shostakovich responded by writing a more conventional symphony, earning the government’s acclaim.
 One example of the wide discussion on Wagner’s anti-Semitism and this concert can be found on the BBC’s website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1428634.stm. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is devoted to soothing international tensions through music, and brings together musicians from Israel and Palestine, among other places, to perform primarily Western classical repertoire throughout the Middle East (see http://west-eastern-divan.org).
 Penny M. Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).