My dear friend of 27 years is going through a trying time. Her husband is currently battling stage 4 cancer down at Emory. He has excellent doctors. He goes for chemo weekly and radiation daily. He just this week completed his treatment plan and now he can rest and recover. Last week my friend texted me this photo of a sign outside of the Emory Pharmacy. She said it could be “blog material”. She was right. The sign said:
I knew exactly what the sign meant. When your life is moving along nicely you hear a song and move to the music. You like the beat, the sound of the voice and the way you feel. You might catch a word or two, but you may not pay that much attention to them. Then life puts something in your path that stops you in your tracks and you say “Whoa. I need to slow down and take a look at this.” Life gives you pause. It could be something good like a new relationship, a new job or something bad like an illness, divorce or a death.
The next time you hear that same song, you listen to the words because you are more aware. The song takes on more meaning; it affects your emotions-it has your attention.
A good universal example would be Josh Groban who attracts people of all ages. His song “To where you are” is hauntingly beautiful. It’s about a person who has died and the remaining person see’s their beloved everywhere, their forever love. Upon first listen you may say “Wow! What an amazing voice.” Then you may experience some type of loss in your life and now you understand the lyrics.
This is called:
synesthesia syn·es·the·sia (sĭn'ĭs-thē'zhə)
1. A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.
2. A sensation felt in one part of the body as a result of stimulus that is applied to another, as in referred pain.
Another way to say it; you are stimulated because you have a new job you really wanted. On the way to work you hear the song “Taking care of business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive. Now every time you hear that song you think of when you got the new job.
Another example recently at least for me is Adele. I love her voice and I like the song “Hello”. It’s a great song while you are happy because she can really sing. It’s actually funny the way Saturday Live used it in their skits-laugh out loud funny. Her voice is stunning. Until your relationship falls apart, then “lyrically” that song doesn’t feel so great anymore.
I grew up in a house of music. I’m not saying I liked the music my Dad played but we sure did have it playing. My Dad had a state of the art stereo system, a Bang Olufsen. He played The Preservation Hall Jazz band all of the time it seemed. He also loved the Mummer’s and he would play Mummer’s music and do the Mummer’s strut around the living room. We even saw the Mummers parade live in Philadelphia one New Year’s when we were young.
He liked the symphony as well. We would go to the Forum in Harrisburg to hear that kind of music. When I was young staying home sick from school, I would play symphony music. The strings soothed me and still do to this day. He also liked songs from Broadway. The ones I remember well were "76 Trombones in the big parade" from the Music Man and "If I were a rich man" from Fiddler on the Roof.
The other form of music in our house was my sister Beth banging around on the piano at 6:00 am because it was the only time she could practice! Really? Actually she pretty good. She can read music and play well if she practices.
My point is Music plays an important role in our lives. Malini Mohana says music “is a tool for arousing emotions and feelings, music is far more powerful than language. An increased interest in how the brain processes musical emotion can be attributed to the way in which it is described as a language of emotion across cultures. Music can be so evocative and overwhelming that it can only be described as standing halfway between thought and phenomenon.”
Okay, so there is a whole slew of data regarding the structural features of music, the definition of the structure and the associated emotions. I find it interesting. Check it out. It's these elements that make up the complexity of music --making it work for us.
Tempo: The speed or pace of a musical piece. Fast Tempo: happiness, excitement, anger. Slow Tempo: sadness, serenity.
Mode: The type of scale. Major tonality: happiness, joy. Minor tonality: sadness.
Loudness: They physical strength and amplitude of sound. Intensity, power or anger.
Melody: The linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. Complementing harmonies: happiness, relaxation, serenity. Clashing harmonies: excitement, anger, unpleasantness.
Rhythm: The regularly recurring pattern or beat of a song. Smooth/consistent rhythm: happiness, peace. Rough/irregular rhythm: amusement, uneasiness. Varied rhythm: joy.
This tells me there is a method to the madness of composers, writing music and putting lyrics to the music. Let’s also keep in mind that there are many “factors” which influence how we feel about music. Take a look. I picked a few that I liked.
1) Listener features: Personality, age, knowledge of music, and motivation to listen.
2) Contextual features: Location and particular occasion for listening. (funeral, wedding,
3) Conflicting cues: Past research has argued that opposing emotions like happiness and sadness fall on a bipolar scale, where both cannot be felt at the same time. More research has suggested that happiness and sadness are experienced separately, which implies that they can be felt concurrently.
4) Development: Studies indicate that the ability to understand emotional messages in music starts early and improves throughout child development.
5) Emotional memories and actions: Music may not only elicit new emotions, but connect listeners with other emotional sources. Music serves as a powerful cue to recall emotional memories back into awareness. Because Music is such a pervasive part of social life, present in weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies, it brings back.
6) Physiological Responses: Emotions are known to create physiological, or bodily, changes in a person which can be tested experimentally. Some evidence shows one of these changes is within the nervous system. Arousing music is related in increased heart rate and muscle tension, calming music is connected to decreased heart rate and muscle tension and increased skin temperature. Physical responses such as shivers or goose bumps to be caused my changes in harmony and tears or lump-in-the-throat provoked by changes in melody.
(The above data is from Wikipedia)
The reality is we all have songs that are meaningful to us at particular times:
-My first relationship: Peaches and Herb, “Reunited and it feels so good”
-Any sales call that I go on: Morris Day, “Color of Success”
-Another relationship: Boz Scaggs, “Miss Sun”
-College Memories: Michael Jackson, “PYT” and “Billie Jean”
-Living in Atlanta in 1985: Prince, “Raspberry Beret” (favorite line, she came in through the out door, to me means be yourself find your own path)
-Kundalini yoga: “Og namo” and “The Long time sun”
-When my first dog died: Saint Saens, “Carnival of animals”
-Memorial service of my friend’s mother: Gabriel’s Oboe and Widor’s Toccata V
We all have those songs that just plain move our souls. Think about those songs that are meaningful in your life and let yourself go back to the feelings that surround them. I am glad that we as humans have the ability to comprehend letting sound, music and voices move over and saturate our beings. They say with Alzheimer’s patients that music is the last to go in memory. Even people with moderate to severe dementia can still sing a song they learned early on. This was evidenced by my mother and the words she knew when she knew very little else.
Music is one thing than transcends generations, economic class, education and social standing. It meets us where we are emotionally. It’s a personal connection. What a gift.
Remember the song “We are the World”? The song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie produced by Quincy Jones for charity? For Africa in 1985. That song United people. It had sales in excess of 20 million copies! It is one of fewer than 30 all-time singles to have sold at least 10 million copies worldwide.
Back to the sign in the pharmacy which got me thinking about this in the first place. Music allows us to emote. Both with the sound, melody, beat and then possibly later with the lyrics. It is expressive, it is healing and it is connective. The thing I like the most is the connection via music. It articulates in our minds things we don’t necessarily have the words to say. The look in the eye, the understanding and the rawness life gives us. Music is special. It makes us feel alive. For me, Music absolutely rocks my world.
I was reminded just how special music is when my friend sent me the picture from Emory. In her case, the circumstance, the sound, the lyrics—whatever special music she shares with her husband has a whole new meaning. As it should. Again, what a gift.
Until next time.