Music, Emotions and the Brain

In a video clip, a round-faced baby -no older than 2- is shown staring fixedly ahead, big tears slowly forming in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. He seems to be in a trance. He is listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It is as if he had known sorrow in a previous life and is being reminded of it. For where else would he have encountered sadness and been touched by it at such an early age?

On a city street an adolescent, violin tucked under his chin, is performing a lively tune, some passing teenagers have stopped to listen. Suddenly and spontaneously they start performing the most intricate steps, stomping, swirling and creating their own dance in tune with the music. It is as if the sounds were flying straight to their feet, and directing them to bend, turn and clap. Where did those joyful sounds find a home?

In all popular songs the heart is supposed the repository of all emotions especially romantic love. It is your heart that feels joy¬†desire, distress, sorrow and fulfillment. At the risk of greatly disappointing young lovers, one must recognize that the heart is nothing but a tireless blood pumping machine, it is all happening in our head. or more exactly, in the brain. Listening to music creates emotions that increase the amount of dopamine in the brain.Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

When a mother sings a lullaby to a newborn child the hormone oxytocin is released and results in a soothing effect and an uplifting mood. Autistic children can react to music beause it goes directly
to the brain and the subconscious.It helps in dealing with grief and sadness.Even joyful music can make us cry because it nostalgically reminds us of gone happy times. And we like melancholic music
and sometimes take pleasure at being sad.

Mozart wrote his first sympnony when he was 8 and already had a distinct voice. Chopin started composing at age 7. How emotionally mature were they? Could they have been merely mimicking feelings of sadness or longing?

And where did the voices in their heads come from? The pianist Lang Lang tells us that at age 2 he was watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on television when he heard Franz Liszt Rhapsody No,2 and ran to the TV, entranced by the music.

What about background music?It is supposed to create a mood even though we mostly half listen to it and at tims forget that it is there. What if restaurants stopped playing it? Would we suddenly be startled by the sound of our own voices ? And why do we get tired to the point of boredom by some music (I no longer enjoy Grieg and even Dvorak) but can listen endlessly to some other? (For me it is all 18th century and especially baroque music)

It looks like I have more questions than answers but I know there will always be music in my life. But at times there will be complete silence too.

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