The power of music in comparison to sex

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There is more pleasure to be derived from music than from sex.

A Stanford University professor analysed the responses of many and found 96 per cent experienced thrills in response to music, far exceeding the rate for the expected thriller – sex.

The respondents told Dr. Avram Goldstein, musical passages gave them greater thrills than (in descending order): a scene in a movie, play, ballet or book, physical contact with another person, viewing a beautiful painting, photograph or piece of sculpture, and moments of inspiration.

And people described a thrill as “feeling like a chill, a shudder, tingling or tickling, often accompanied by goose bumps, a lump in the throat or weeping.”

Perhaps we should be very concerned about the number of us who are listening to music rather than indulging in some form of sexual activity.

Perhaps a parliamentary committee should be established to study the extent to which Beyonce, Bieber, Bach, Brahms and Beethoven are responsible for Canada’s declining birth rate.

How do you explain people being more thrilled by a climactic moment in an opera than by “hand’s on romance?”  This is not worrying?   The very present danger to the stability of our great dominion is not trade imbalances, scandalous Senators or corruption in Quebec, or even unbridled sex — it is music.

The ancient Greeks felt that music was the most feared of all of the so-called aphrodisiacs.  Plato believed that rhythm and melody ideally should be in concert with the movements of the celestial bodies, lending order to human affairs.  He viewed music as a threat to the body politic, writing: “Musical innovation is full of danger to the state, for when the modes of music change, the laws of the state always change with them.”

Yes, music has power.  Researcher Goldstein reports the thrills experienced by a particular listener tend to follow particular patterns.  The thrill patterns consist of ups and downs which follow musical patterns and tonal colourings.   He writes, “Evidently the emotional content is perceived differently by different people.  What makes a certain musical passage able to create thrills is some association with an emotionally charged event or a particular person in one’s past.”

Memories stimulated by music are particularly potent. In addition to the strong association value, there appears to be a spiritual dimension to music, as well.

In another study, the researcher asked people if they had ever felt: “Very close to a powerful, spiritual force that seemed to lift them out of themselves?”

Among those who said yes, music was the single most important stimulant, followed by prayer and seeing a sunset or some other spectacular natural beauty.

What the mechanisms are or precisely how music affects us is not thoroughly understood.  We do know music can influence both physical and psychological processes.  On the simplest level, music reduces stress and anxiety by distracting us from our problems.  There may be a biochemical connection as well.

Some researchers think music relaxes us by triggering the secretion of endorphins, the naturally occurring pain killers in the brain.  Other work suggests that music can be used as a stimulant: increasing awareness, reducing depression and lessening panic in patients with anxiety disorders.

Music has been used to reach autistic youngsters, those often lost in “autistic aloneness.” Our own students in Laurier’s Music Therapy program know that their methods are a growing and respected approach to many problems facing a variety of patients.

How music affects us depends on our state of mind, our past experiences and of course, our tastes in music. Perhaps we are only now coming to understand the complex relationship which exists among tones, rhythms, chords, etc. and our deepest existential roots.

Late biologist and celebrated essayist Lewis Thomas wrote: “Somewhere underlying all the other signals in nature is continual music. . .the need to make music and to listen to it is universally expressed by human beings.  It is like speech, a dominant aspect of human biology.”

In the end, however, the music in our heads and in our bodies is really quite intimately our own.  This is what the avant-garde composer John Cage meant when he said: “Music is sound played by millions of hearers.”

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