A couple weeks ago, an article titled “The Mystery of Music: What about it has such power over human beings?” appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The author, Terry Teachout, wondered why it’s important for us to understand music’s effect on our emotions (he was inspired by a study showing that music can influence a person’s perception of a face). Mr. Teachout says he doesn’t doubt that music has a power over humans–he is just questioning why we need to analyze it. It seems he’s worried that music will lose it’s charm if we “think” about it too much.
I disagree. Understanding how music work informs our work as music therapists and can contribute towards a better quality of life:
- As a music therapist in a field where “evidence-based practice” is the gold standard, we need to have the…well, evidence to support our work. We often address emotionally-based goals with our clients. Ergo, with a better understanding of how music influences emotions, we can implement more appropriate interventions for our clients.
- Mr. Teachout is worried that music will lose it’s charm if people understand why it works. Not true. If anything, a musical experience is enhanced by an understanding of what is happening. Last night I attended a concert where all the works were composed by Michael Daugherty. One of my favorite pieces on the program was his “Red Cape Tango.” I would have enjoyed this piece just by listening to it–but knowing that it was a musical depiction of Superman’s fight with Doomsday that included elements of the Latin chant Dies Irae and the occasional musical depiction of the “Pow!,” “Wham!,” and “Bam!” from the 1960s TV show? That awareness brought his piece to a whole new level.
- Knowledge is empowering. If it’s commonly known that listening to certain types of music can affect how you feel, don’t you think people would be more aware of the music they choose to listen to? I think we tend to do this naturally. We have our personal playlists–music we listen to when we are mad, when we’re happy, when we’re cleaning the house, when we’re driving, when we’re getting ready to go out, etc. But if we are armed with knowledge about what music works best, we can be more conscious of our selections.
- According to Mr. Teachout, “(Music) sounds terrific, but in the end it gets you nowhere.” Not true. If music sounds terrific, it gets you somewhere–it gets you feeling happy, or puts you in the right mood to finish the task. Isn’t that something? Plus, it’s a passive experience–you don’t have to DO anything, the music will do it for you. What else in our lives does that?
- Finally, research that investigates how music works has other, non-musical implications. It helps us understand how our brains and bodies function. Knowing how music affects our emotions also adds to our knowledge of how emotions in general work. Which can help in other areas like, oh say, therapy treatments for children with autism.
I highly recommend you read Mr. Teachout’s article.It’s well written and thought provoking. Plus, he gives interesting examples of how people over the years have tried to define music (which is not that easy).
If you read his article and have any thoughts to add, please leave a comment below or email me directly.
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