10.30.17 | Music's Evocative Magic

Boulder will be treated this Friday (10/27) @7:30 to a free concert at C.U.'s Grusin Music Hall which features C.U. Doctoral candidate Maria Kurchevskaya, together with Ekaterina Kotcherguina, soprano, and Maria Wietrzynska, piano, presenting "four cycles of songs for voice and piano . . . . (evoking) a variety of moods, from mysterious yearnings and sensitive feelings of love to childish innocence and sarcastic fun . . " But that's not all. The real treat is that Maria will be joining us the following Member Monday as we discuss the very subject of music's evocative power.

Perhaps it's better for us at first to behold rather than to analyze the power of music. We shall thus begin by simply acknowledging and sharing the soundtrack of our lives as we bear witness to the strange power of recall and the way rich emotional associations travel fully intact. Music is the way our memories sing to us across time e.g. the forgotten heartbreak, a sublime moment, maybe a trauma. Hearing Donovan's  "Hurdy Gurdy Man" I am again listening to the radio from the passenger seat of a car spinning into an accident fifty years ago. Commenting on a Noel Coward song, "amazing how potent cheap music can be".

At the wholesale level music can be a form of spiritual carbon dating. We may enjoy comparing the signature songs of our respective generations. Elderly patients in dementia have been known to spontaneously re-engage during a triggering song by Frank Sinatra. And, of course, we all know about the cynical application of music's powerful emotional appeal in the commercial world.

The truly fascinating discussion, however, lies well beyond the subject of emotional time-travel and into the power of music in and of itself to encode emotion and thereby interact directly with the limbic system (Music and Emotion — SYNC PROJECT).  For that, we invoke our discussion a few weeks back on empathy. Just as human emotions may be contagious at the inter-personal level through activation of the mirror neuron system, so too may music activate such a center directly. The pitch, the volume, the tempo, the timbre -- the so-called prosody -- encode the emotional content for transfer to the open recipient.

As such, music at a certain high level speaks its own universal language that readily resonates with the appreciate ear regardless of age, sophistication, or technical understanding. A toddler articulates this emotional truth better than any words ever could: Baby reacts to Moonlight Sonata - YouTube

Steve SmithComment