He walks out onto the stage amidst thundering applause. As he basks in the recognition, he raises his electric guitar; the applause grows intense in anticipation of what is to come. He readies his fingers against the strings, poised to strike the first note; the arena is suddenly silent. And then it comes: piercing, undulating, soothing, straining, the unmistakable signature of his art. The crowd goes wild.
The varied audience invariably rises to its feet and sings along to the pop concert. For a brief moment they are united, appreciating the masterpiece that is coming to life before them. Even the shyest among the crowd would clap along to the beat, joining the collective rhythm, sharing in the communal spirit.
Music is intangible and ethereal, but it has always had the concrete effect of unification. The patriotic sing together their national anthem; the religious sing together their hymns, and almost everyone enjoys popular music. Music as an art embodies the common ideals of the partakers, and music as a language binds together the will of the participants. Through their hymns, the religious share their worship and prayer. Through their anthem, countrymen share their nationalistic zeal. Through concerts, the populace shares its appreciation of the present.
Unification has another side, however: division is its twin. As unifying as music is, music is also powerfully divisive. As we listen to popular music, we develop preferences for particular performers and genres. As we sing our national anthem, we are setting ourselves apart from all the other people singing other national anthems. As we join our brethren in prayer and worship, we celebrate our own righteousness and pity the ignorant sin of our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. For the moment, at least, the crowd is united in its willful segregation from the rest of the world.
The synthesis of unification and division is an effective means of control in politics and especially in religion. While imperial command can only travel so far in finite time, music is instantly memorable, invariably immortal. And through music, religion has conquered the world. The tenacity of religion is due in a significant way to the power of music: each religion is locked in deadly combat with the others, striving to maintain its own membership while preaching the wrongfulness of these others. What better means of control is there than the timeless hymns that have been sung since the very beginning?
As the concert nears its end, the audience savors the last notes, bonding more fiercely than ever, as if unwilling to give up the glorious moment of unity. As the performers leave the stage, the crowd sighs in content and vows to share with neighbors, friends, and acquaintances the transcendence of their experience.