I have always enjoyed music. All my life I can be found singing, dancing, and have even been known to play an instrument or two. I can’t really remember a time when it wasn’t a part of my life. One thing that has always fascinated me about music is how it can instantly take you back to a moment or time in your life and bring up such strong feelings and memories…and with such vividness. This isn’t always a good thing, as not all feelings and memories are fond ones. Additionally, what can also catch me off guard is how a song can change my mood after hearing just the first few notes…and this isn’t always a bad thing. So I have to ask myself why this happens…and not just to me. Why is music so powerful?
As a fan of music, it is usually something I turn to when I need a pick-me-up. I love listening to it when I exercise as it gives me that extra push I need. It can usually make a boring task more enjoyable. To this day, whenever I hear certain songs from either Neil Diamond or Barbra Streisand (yeah, I know!!), I am instantly reminded of cleaning my parents’ home when I was younger. Nine times out of ten I will start cleaning my own house…all the while singing along and reminiscing about my younger days.
Some songs that take me way back to my childhood can even result in a physical reaction in me. I still can’t hear the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You” without thinking of doing sit-ups in P.E. at Little Elementary School. This was the record, yes a vinyl record, which was played by Mrs. Peterson in class on a regular basis. We had to do sit-ups for the whole song…at least until the record skipped. If I ever hear this song playing on the radio, I can tell you the exact part where the skip occurred! It makes my abs hurt just thinking about it!
So what is music after all? Sure it’s made up of notes played in a specific tempo and key with or without words. I know that music with lyrics can convey a feeling in a little more obvious way, but that all depends on how it is interpreted by its listener. Earlier today I was at the gym and decided to enjoy one of the many Radiolab podcasts I’ve downloaded. If you’ve never checked them out I would highly recommend it!! (Thanks David!!) The first one I chose today was titled “Musical Language.” At the beginning of this podcast, they feature Professor Diana Deutsch, a Psychology Professor at the University of California – San Diego. She studies sound and how humans perceive sound. One thing that they discussed that I find fascinating is how often the spoken word sounds like music. I know there have been many times that I’ll say something and because of the inflection in my voice it can sound like music. It wasn’t intended as music, but my brain begins to interpret it that way and it usually gives me a chuckle.
That leads me to wonder then what the purpose of music is if a single song can mean something completely different to every person who hears it. Does the actual intended meaning remain intact or does that even matter? This mostly applies to music with lyrics. Many times though, it’s not the lyrics that even matter; it’s the song as a whole that brings about a feeling or memory. I recently discovered that a song that has always brought back wonderful memories for me had the complete opposite effect on the very person it reminds me of when I hear it. Furthermore, I can listen to a song or some music that was playing at a particular event in my life, and the same people who were there sharing in the experience with me don’t have any emotional connection to the same piece of music.
As I’ve mentioned before, a wise person recently told me that each person’s perception is their own reality. This applies to music as well. Because each of us is who we are today because of every experience we’ve had throughout our lives, it makes sense that each of us would put our own spin on something we hear. After all, I can listen to a song and think “This sounds like a bunch of noise!” whereas someone else can listen to it and realize that it is now their favorite song!! Does this mean that I am correct and the other person is wrong?…well of course!! This is my blog after all!!! 😉