Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.
Force in music is usually understood metaphorically. Unlike the physical motion of water or wind, which can move objects between two points, musical force symbolically transports the hearer from one mental state to another. The sound’s causal effect is akin to psychological manipulation: the listener is pushed and pulled into a particular mood. The phenomenon is commonly described as being “swayed,” “bowled over,” “carried along” and “taken away.“ The potency of such metaphorical movement is attested in diverse musical situations, including therapy, religious devotion, classical performances, patriotic displays and lullabies. In these settings, the listener is moved without actually moving.
Musical force can, however, manifest in another way. We detect movement in music partly because we experience it as a living organism, with coursing blood and appendages gesturing in various directions. As described above, this animation is often seen in the mind’s eye and affects our psychological state. But it can also occur within our bodies.
According to Gary Ansdell, a research associate at the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London, motion in music is more than just a mental inference or psychological response. Music can stimulate a person’s spirit or will, which then animates the body. Although music originates outside of the person, its mechanism differs from other exterior agents. For instance, when someone’s leg is bent by an apparatus or machine, the action takes place outside the person and is not necessarily reflective of his or her wishes. The leg is acted upon as if it were an inanimate object. But when music compels the leg to move, the activity is generated from within. As Ansdell explains it, music communicates directly with the will, resulting in movement that is externally triggered yet internally generated.
Music therapists utilize this force to good effect. Many physical impairments can be overcome, circumvented or remediated through musical stimulation. The force of the music is such that it activates physical movement that is, under ordinary conditions, enormously difficult. The body translates the living essence of musical sound into fluid motion. This effect has been documented among patients with varying degrees of emotional constrictions, motoric impediments and physical damage.
In therapeutic settings and elsewhere, music motivates physical movement in three basic stages. First, the listener interacts with the sound, perceiving in it some type of motion (fast, slow, steady, disjointed, etc.). Second, the body aligns itself with the music’s tempo and direction. Third, the body enacts the path of motion. Through this process, music becomes a vectoring force that literally moves us.
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