On Loving Music
You don’t have to be a long time reader to know that I love music … it shows up frequently here on Bud’s Blog. But it goes beyond love … in my first post, Soul Music, I wrote about how much music moves me, that I am never more aware that I have a soul than when I listen to music. That makes music a spiritual experience. Does that prove I have a soul? Of course not. Research into the effects of music on the brain shows that music can increase communication between the left (logical) side of the brain and the more creative right side, stimulate regions of the right side, and excite the brain’s pleasure centers. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte told of suffering a massive stroke in the left side of her brain, making her right-brained for the duration of her recovery. Recovery was made more difficult because in many ways, being right-brained was a pleasant state in which she felt connected to the universe, that is, it was like the spiritual state many try to reach through meditation. So, it’s possible that my soulful feelings while listening to music are simply the by-product of a stimulated right brain. Regardless, I love it.
I was talking to my friend, Alan, a couple of weeks ago and he told me something that astonished me. I really don’t get music, he said. I could really live without it. There was a time I’d have simply dismissed Alan as culturally deficient, but in my sixties, I find our differences more interesting than annoying. I know lots of people who don’t love music as much as I do. Or they like music but don’t love it. I see my love of music as a gift … and I definitely can’t imagine a world without it. And it was pretty obvious as I talked to Alan, just as I couldn’t understand how he could dismiss something I love so completely, he couldn’t understand how something that meant nothing to him could mean so much to me. It does make me wonder how such a thing could happen in a single species, and whether we are simply wired differently or the differences are learned.
It turns out that while music affects all our brains in similar ways, it doesn’t affect all of us to the same degree. In a post back in June, Noise, I noted an article in ScienceNow that said knowing the source of a sound contributes to whether we hear it as noise … people told a sound is part of a modern musical composition are more likely to call it pleasant. And studies have also shown that music’s brain effects are more pronounced when the listener finds the music pleasurable. I suppose that’s not a surprise. But a paper titled Music and Emotions in the Brain: Familiarity Matters reports that, based upon measurements made using an MRI to determine brain activity, familiarity seems to be a crucial factor in making the listeners emotionally engaged with music. Yes, whether they liked the music or not. I was raised with music playing. Classical, opera, big band, Broadway shows. Some I like (big band), some, I didn’t (opera). It’s possible that I have my Mom to thank for my love of music because her tastes made me familiar with a wide range of sound, including instrumental music. What about my siblings? I’ll have to ask them.
I have another theory, though, based upon something Alan said when we were talking about the same subject this week. When I’m in the car, he said, I like to have have lectures or spiritual talks on, not music. If I have music on, I think too much. Now, I know that Alan has to think to follow what is being said on his lectures. I suspect what he really means is that he free-associates too much when he puts on music. Now, I know that under certain circumstances, free-association can lead us astray, into worrying about things that may never happen or to obsessive subjects. But free-association is very much part of the creative process, a very right-brained activity. I often come up with my best ideas during those times when the music is on, when according to Alan, I’d be thinking too much. Perhaps that’s the answer: those inclined to take a very logical approach to life don’t find the right-brain stimulation that music brings pleasurable … or useful. Of course, that begs the question: Are we hard-wired to be left-brained or right-brained? That’s probably another post, another day.
If you have a minute, I’d like to know what you think, how you think your feelings about music relate to your childhood experience and inclinations to be creative.