Losing ourselves in the effects of music
“After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own . . . “ ~ Oscar Wilde
While these words by Oscar Wilde were penned many years ago, studies by scientists and psychologists are now discovering so much more about the effects of music on the human body.
Why does music affect us, and how is it able to evoke reactions and emotions?
And note that Oscar Wilde was describing music without any lyrics or words – emotional turmoil is woven into every note simply by the way the music is composed and played.
Links between the music industry, mental illness and clinical depression are becoming more prevalent – a recent UK study in 2016 asked the question; “Can Music Make You Sick?”(1) But the tortured musician on the path to self-destruction isn’t the only casualty in music. It is increasingly obvious that there are other factors at play.
Regret, unrequited love, conditional love, depressive, dark and suicidal thoughts, “can't do without you”, sexual denigration, the ‘fix it’ of drugs and alcohol, I’m happy . . . are you truly?
What sort of lifestyle are we promoting through the music industry? With the right formula and catchy tune it has a guaranteed audience . . . everyone wants music in their lives.
Throughout history, music has been constantly acknowledged for its potent emotive capabilities. Shown to be a strong force in human society, music is used in the fervour of battle with a war cry to stir the spirit, to quell or calm the masses, even to abuse and torture. The direct influence music has on human behaviour and emotional wellbeing has been well documented.
More recently, “research on popular music has explored its effects on schoolwork, social interactions, mood and affect, and particularly behaviour. The effect that popular music has on children's and adolescents' behaviour and emotions is of paramount concern.”(2) reports the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2009.
We are a society that champions the outlet of emotions in music, but what does that mean for the composer and the listener? What happens when music is used as a depository for anger, sadness and abusive behaviour?
Unlike in Wilde’s time, with today’s technology, music has the power to send a message to millions in moments, but are we truly aware of the effects of music and how it plays out in the human psyche? Music has a known effect on self-esteem and the way we view life. It affects our physiology and subsequently our behaviour.
- Do we ever stop to consider what energy/feeling/message is actually coming with the music we listen to?
- And can we separate the lifestyle of the musician and composer from the music produced, as is currently fashionable?
Oscar Wilde’s insightful perceptions suggest there is a clear relationship between music and the unresolved emotional turmoil of the composer that carries through into the music.
There are numerous studies and examples of suggestive, depressive, aggressive and abusive music and lyrics that affect human behaviour and influence people who then find themselves inflamed, ‘taken by the moment’, are ‘not themselves’ and consequently play out behaviour that under a different environment, they may not normally participate in. This suggests that we can listen to music and, as Oscar Wilde states, take on ‘sins and tragedies’ that are not our own, that we are not aware of at the time, or that are buried deep down and can rise to the surface when triggered by a certain situation or emotive state.
We can lose ourselves to the effects of music – lyrics or no lyrics.
“McFarland (1984) looked at the effects of exposure to tense, calm, or no-background music (without lyrics) on the emotional content of stories written for the Thematic Apperception Test. Participants who heard tense music wrote the most unpleasant stories.”(3)
Aside from words that echo abuse and denigration, music is a vibration that carries energy, and with it, emotions or feelings that are undeniably tangible. The moment a threatening person enters the room we feel it in our body, for we have a natural knowing about the energetic state that we are faced with. Our senses scream loudly, warning us when confronted with an aggressive, abusive voice. We can feel the sadness in someone’s tone of voice, and similarly we can feel the joy.
And so, when we take a step back and consider the science of energy – music is the same as the voice. Music is simply a vibration, an energy or frequency that carries with it everything that it was made with.
- What is the attraction to sorrow that Wilde describes?
- What is it about emotional music that engages us?
- Is it possible to observe music and not absorb it – or do we get taken by the sad, aggressive or seductive song before we even stop to feel where we are at?
Our health and the effects of music is a study worthy of deeper exploration.
Inspired by the work of Serge Benhayon.