Music, Identity, and Social Bonding

October 05, 2021
people playing drums.

Music can foster social bonding in a myriad of ways — from a jazz ensemble feeding off of each other during an improvised riff, to students chanting fight songs at a homecoming game, to people collectively tapping their feet along to the rhythm of a subway performer. Although listening to music can be a solitary activity, shared experiences of music can create group identity and connections between people who may otherwise have little in common. How and why does this happen? On October 18, 2021, join speakers Ian Anderson, Machine Learning Engineer at Spotify; Vijay Iyer, Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts at Harvard University; and Laurel Trainor, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior at McMaster University with moderator Matthew Sachs, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University, to explore how music brings us together.

In the spirit of communities fostered by music, we reached out to several student music groups who shared what community means to them and their favorite songs for group bonding. 

Columbia College ’23 (Clefhangers)

Music, for me, is a source of comfort and is something I surround myself with very often, whether that’s listening to it or humming it to myself under my mask on the way to class. Being in Clefhangers allows me to be around and create music with people who feel as passionately as I do about music! Having set rehearsal times means peeling myself away from work and stress to relish in my hobby alongside people I care about. On my own, there’s only so much music I can make with just one voice. But when there are fourteen of us bringing our unique timbres together to create harmony, we are both building and strengthening community. Through our shared love for music, not only have I found people with similar interests, but I have also found a family with whom I can study in Butler Library, cry about stress, and grab lunch any day of the week.

School of Engineering and Applied Science ’23 (Columbia Pops)

I feel that music creates a sense of connection and belonging. Every part in an ensemble is equally important as we all perform together, which I feel is something unique to musical clubs.

Columbia College ’23 (Metrotones)

I feel that music forms community through a special kind of bond found in a group’s shared passion to create something together. Working hard over a goal that everyone invests in, loves, and has fun with creates a tight-knit community that feels almost like a family.

Columbia College ’22 (Musical Theatre Society)

Collaborating to make art together forms magically strong bonds, the foundation of longstanding community. To make music while sharing space together in a theatre gives each artist a love for the show, a love that is forever tied to the people they collaborated with!

School of Engineering and Applied Science ’23 (Spectator Podcasts Composer)

For me, music is about connecting with people on a personal level. Everyone brings their own life experience to music whether it’s in making music or listening. Through this, I think we can learn about the human condition, and that’s a strong foundation to build a community on.

School of Engineering and Applied Science ’23 (Kingsmen)

The unifying aspect of music has always been profoundly interesting to me! I grew up in a Christian household where music was a key component of my faith. With the Kingsmen, that same sonic glue is what brings people from vastly different backgrounds together in concert—it’s the reason why rowers can commune with theater guys and why computer scientists spend a lot of time with philosophy majors in our group.

Columbia College 24 (WKCR)

I think music has a unique community-forming aptitude because of the personal relationships we all have with certain songs. It’s a mental break, an endorphin booster for the good days and the bad ones, so being able to share that with other people really allows connection on a deeper level.

School of General Studies ’22 (Collegium Musicum)

I've been lucky enough in my time at Columbia to see the way community forms around music, like between audiences at live performances, and between the musicians themselves, like in my early music choir as we practice or perform a piece. It's been so wonderful to come back to campus and begin to create music together again.

We also curated a Spotify playlist with submissions from event speakers, students, and Center for Science and Society affiliates featuring songs that represent or build community for them. Give it a listen before you join Ian Anderson, Vijay Iyer, Laurel Trainor, and Matthew Sachs for Music, Identity, and Social Bonding: Moving Beyond the Lab on October 18 at 4 PM ET via Zoom. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVP is required via Eventbrite. This event is part of the Seminars in Society and Neuroscience series.