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The universality of music

A new study prompts us to ask what in music deserves an evolutionary or physiological explanation, and what is better explained by the individual cultures we live in

By Philip Ball  

Slade performing live in concert in 1985. Photo: Hardy Schiffler/DPA/PA Images

Christmas, as everyone knows, officially begins the first time—often now in mid-November—you hear the ancient refrain: “So here it is, Merry Christmas…”

It may be guaranteed this year that plenty of British people of one political persuasion or another (maybe all) will certainly not be having fun at all. But you might still muster up the spirit to sing a few carols, because Christmas is arguably the most musically codified of all western festivals. It is a…

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