Musical Theme for November 9: Emotions

Does Music Elicit or Express Emotion?

Collage example

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The theme of emotions intrigued me beyond exploring the songs themselves. I wanted to explore the connection between music and emotion. What does the research say about how our brain reacts to music? So before I present my choice of songs for this theme, I offer a few snippets of some of the research that is going on in this field. I have not gone into detail, but you can click on the section titles to access the articles.

How Music Impacts Your Brain

According to Malini Mohana, the brain uses the sequence of sounds in music to create meaning, in much the same way that it interprets a visual collage. One of the most fascinating things in this piece is the assertion that, “Music involves subtle violations of timing and, because we know through experience that music is not threatening, these violations are ultimately identified by the frontal lobes as a source of pleasure.”

The Effect of Music on Movie Audiences

Helen Steward talks about how music can be used to arouse emotions and feelings, and how it is particularly effective in raising the bar in psychological thrillers. She gives examples from several films, including Psycho, The Godfather and Paranormal Activity.

Effect of Music on Evaluating Emotional Content

In Scientific American, Mark Changizi states that while it seems obvious that music can evoke emotions, it is not easy to explain why. He reports on a study out of England that found that music can affect the ranking of the emotional content of pictures of human faces.

Universal Emotions and Music

Dartmouth researchers report that their undergraduate students and members of a Cambodian tribe used similar musical characteristics to express universal emotions like anger, sadness and happiness.

The Musical Selections

I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)

Life brings disappointment, betrayal, and anguish. Despair and hopelessness are expressed in numerous musical selections, but I chose two versions of the same song. A song about shattered dreams and futility. Who would not be moved by Anne Hathaway’s heart-wrenching rendering of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables?

In Glee, Rachel expresses the same despair about a relationship that cannot be, but this time it’s about the discovery that her birth mother does not hold the same vision for their future that she does. And in fact, they both have “dreams that cannot be.”

Music of the Night (Phantom of the Opera)

Powerful emotions could be the subtitle of Phantom of the Opera. I selected Music of the Night for the emotion of longing for that music itself can elicit. The sensual aspects of the darkness and the music and the call it makes to the deepest part of the one being seduced, A strong example of the power of music.

Flying Without Wings (Westlife)

Even though we know that we must be complete ourselves to be in a healthy relationship, music abounds with songs of longing for the one who makes us complete, who makes us feel like we can do anything.

Through the Years (Kenny Rogers)

With a relationship that has stood the test of time comes feelings of gratitude, intimacy, and an appreciation for dedication and perseverance.

One Moment in Time (Whitney Houston)

Music can motivate people to push themselves; to challenge themselves; to rise to the occasion. Sometimes, it’s just the support that is needed. This song focuses on individual motivation.

Let the River Run (Carly Simon)

The rhythm, the instruments, the way the excitement builds throughout the song–all of these things lead to motivation on a larger scale. Bringing people together around a common cause, building community.

Songwriters: CARLY SIMON
We’re coming to the edge
Running on the water
Coming through the fog
Your sons and daughters

Let the river run
Let all the dreamers wake the nation
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise
The morning lights the streets that lead them
And sirens call them on with a song

It’s asking for the taking
Oh, my heart is aching

We’re coming to the edge
Running on the water
Coming through the fog
Your sons and daughters
We the great and small
Stand on a star
And blaze a trail of desire
Through the darkening dawn

It’s asking for the taking
Come run with me now
The sky is the color of blue
You’ve never even seen
In the eyes of your lover

Oh, my heart is aching
We’re coming to the edge
Running on the water
Coming through the fog
Your sons and daughters

It’s asking for the taking
Trembling, shaking
Oh, my heart is aching

We’re coming to the edge
Running on the water
Coming through the fog
Your sons and daughters

Let the river run
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation
Come, the New Jerusalem


Closing Remarks

Even though I covered a range of emotions from despair to hope (with a few others in between), I ended with the positive emotions. Based on some of the research listed above, I wanted to leave you in an upbeat state of mind. I find it fascinating that we have a tool at our disposal that can help raise our spirits. I am planning to be much more intentional about including music in my daily routine. Just listening to the songs in this post tonight has brightened my mood. I hope it does the same for you.


21 comments on “Musical Theme for November 9: Emotions

  1. I can’t stop crying You have proved your point . This music has brought so much emotion to me I wept pain and angst with , Anne Hathaway, as I did when I watched the film., I sobbed with the Glee version. I felt the fear of an obsessive lover with Music of the night, then I cried hopelessly for no reason when listening to West Life! Then Kenny had me thinking of friends lovers and family, then Whitney Huston took me back over a year to sitting at the Para Olympics crying with pride and pleasure! I just stop when you put up an all time favourite songs by Carly Simon .

    You have shown music proves emotions …………………. it hurts , it up lifts and often it is a prayer!
    Thank you !

    Here is one that has me in tears ( I am a mess today) The way this lad has taken the words of Dolly Parton and interpreted them so perfectly and he has the most beautiful smile. Hope you enjoy!

    • Thanks for the video, Cate! I had seen it posted here and there, but hadn’t actually looked at it. I experienced such a range of emotions just watching this child react to his mother’s singing. At one point, I had tears in my eyes, but a big smile on my face at the same time. Awesome! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Emotion -Music Theme November 9th | johnny ojanpera

  3. I remember watching this Glee song episode and loving it. Today I thought of the recent demise of Finn/Corey and your selection seemed to fit that too.
    I love your selections!
    Music is great medicine too–everything from singing bowls to whatever music people enjoy affects them mentally and physically.
    O Carly Simon–yeah!

    • Thanks, Eva. I find it interesting that music with the most intense emotions are often the ones that do fit a variety of situations. I Dreamed a Dream can fit so many situations, all of them heartbreaking in their own way. But that in itself if also a medicine, as you say. I remember going through a particularly painful situation in my life, and I could put this song on and belt it out through my tears. Its medicinal power was quite cathartic.

  4. Pingback: Emotions, or, No Numb Here, Musical Theme | 47whitebuffalo's Blog

    • Thanks, Eva! Also, since I’m participating fairly regularly, I’m willing to take a turn at choosing a theme, or to get put into the rotation, or whatever. Bear asked me about it at one point, but I never really responded. So I’m just putting it out there. 🙂

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