Thursday, February 16, 2012

More About Music and Emotion, Please!

Dear Madame L,

I hate it when you give a link to some other website without explaining more about it, like you did with your post about Adele. 

Some of us don't have time to follow some link and read some whole article.

So could you please give a little more information on those kinds of things? Because I think it would be great to have a quick summary of why some songs make us feel so emotional and make us listen to them over and over again even when they make us sad.


Not Much Time On My Hands

Dear Not Much Time,

Madame L thanks you for the suggestion. She will try to summarize some of those points about emotional songs here, and will try to give more details from or at least a summary of other such items in the future.

In her Valentine's Day post about Adele's "Someone Like You," Madame L provided this link to the Wall Street Journal article "Anatomy of a Tear Jerker," which gives some scientific reasons for our attraction to emotional songs like Adele's "Someone Like You."

To summarize, certain features of music are associated with emotional feelings. These include:

"Appoggiatura," an ornamental note that provides tension and a temporary dissonance that "clashes with the melody" temporarily until the tension is released by settling on the"right" note. Adele does this in "Someone Like You."

But she didn't invent this trick. Madame L's brother told her once that he could drive his piano teacher to distraction by missing the next-to-last note of a scale and then landing on the right note. 

Other tricks, figured out by psychologist Martin Guhn and his colleague Marcel Zentner of the University of British Columbia, who co-wrote a 2007 article about their research, include:

---A soft passage beginning suddenly becoming loud

---A new "voice" (an instrument or harmony) entering abruptly

---An expansion of the frequencies played (e.g., jumping an octave to echo a theme)

---Unexpected deviations in the melody or harmony

These tricks have been used by the classic composers and everyone since then. Take another look at Whitney Houston's singing of the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, and you'll see her using all of them. You can learn more here about how she and her musical director, Ricky Minor, came up with the style and harmonies of this performance.

Madame L will not summarize this article for you. However, she'll mention here that she remembers that January in 1991 very well. The U.S. had just gone into the first Gulf War, and the patriotic feeling of the song resonated with everyone in the U.S.---and around the globe, because the Super Bowl was broadcast all around the world that year for the first time.

The staging of the performance was also masterful, with Whitney Houston wearing a white track suit and red-and-blue hairband, and members of the military holding the flags of all 50 states. From the Wikipedia article: "The announcer asks the audience to join in the honoring of  'America' and 'especially the brave men and women serving our nation in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world.'"

Later, Whitney Houston released the song as a single, with proceeds going to raise funds for soldiers and their families. 
Hoping this improves your music appreciation,

Madame L

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