What Makes Music into “Tea Music”?

A stirring experience!
A stirring experience!

Before we get to discuss what would define music as tea music, we first need to answer the question, whether there is such thing as “tea music” at all. It seems that while music seems to be rarely composed for the particular purpose of being tea music, some of the music that is basically produced either for its own sake or in order to fit a particular or more general background or psychological purpose (e.g., movie soundtracks, event themes, meditation music) is commonly perceived more suitable for any kind of tea drinking event than other, thus creating a perception of the same as appropriate “tea music” by people, who tend to “celebrate” their tea drinking even in everyday situations.

Believe me, I know, what I’m talking about, I am one of these people, and I have met many others, who are alike, if it comes to preparing and drinking our tea: before we actually make tea, and apart from the actual preparation of the preparation, this including the setup of instruments and tools we will need for preparing and drinking tea, we will also perform a lot of seemingly erratic activities, such as moving things in places (apparently randomly), changing the light, shutting down TV, opening windows, closing doors, and, last but not least, thinking about whether music would be suitable or not, and if we decide that yes, then we will invest a considerable effort, which music will fit best to our “tea situation”, in other words, which music will be the best “tea music” right now?

At this, it is not that we are really free to choose. While we might be real music geeks otherwise, spanning the spectrum from heaviest metal and punk to pop, jazz, and spiritual music, we will automatically narrowing our choice to what we will implicitly consider as potential tea music. And though they might not be all too strict, there are rules for this: the spherical instrumental, relaxing acoustic or meditational, soft and melodious jazz will have much better chances to make it into our final pool for selection than any aggressive rock or punk music, nerves-killing free jazz improvisations or that super-trendy pop star you like to listen to in your car a lot and who strikes all your emotional chords at once with her or his hit tunes. As I said before, the rules aren’t any strict, in fact, they are set up by individuals in the first place, developed by the interplay and forming consensus within the plurality (social structure) of such individuals, and are constantly newly interpreted and reinvented by them and by the described processes.

So, while the borders between genres and other characteristics of music might be blurred in regard to making a particular music eligible as tea music, there are safe areas of consensus that are best described by a set of attributes, which either alone or in combination with each other. Due to the heavily blurred borders, overlappings and strong individual preferences involved, though, it is very hard to name these attributes or establish a definite list of them. A humble try of mine to cover a few of them would be stating “relaxing” (as opposed to unnerving), demanding (as opposed to trivial), peaceful (as opposed to aggressive)… not wanting to offend anybody for their preferences, I don’t even dare listing more of the attributes that would fit the purpose of defining a music as tea music for me. You might come up with your own set of such, and I’m sure you will, and I’m sure there will be differences, even contradictions, between our sets, as will be the case not only between you and me, but also between you and/or me and any other individual. Still, I am also sure that if we will collect the attribute sets of 1000 random individuals (tea drinkers, of course) regarding the question which music they will consider as suitable for tea music, we would also received strong overlappings and tendencies defining what I have earlier called “safe areas of consensus”.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

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