Tag Archives: Music Therapy

Fleeting Effect

Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

By the evening of December 30, 1862, Confederate and Union armies were positioned for battle in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They were so close to one another that bugle calls could be heard from the opposing camp. Just before tattoo—the bugle signal for lights to be extinguished and loud talking and other disturbances to cease—army bands from each side began playing their favorite tunes. The music carried over the wintery air. “Yankee Doodle” from the North was answered by “The Bonnie Blue Flag” from the South. “Dixie” from the South was replied with “Hail Columbia” from the North. The back-and-forth culminated with the rival bands joining together in “Home, Sweet Home,” a song dear to soldiers on both sides. Thousands of homesick voices rose above the blaring brass instruments. It was a poignant reminder of their shared American culture and shared humanity. Then the music stopped. The men went to sleep and rose the next morning to slaughter each other. Of the major battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Murfreesboro (a.k.a. The Battle of Stones River) had the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.

This episode is a stark illustration of music’s fleeting effect. Music is rightly called the most emotional of the arts. In a matter of seconds or less, it can transform the listener’s mood and demeanor. The animosities of warring factions can be disarmed, their sentiments united, and their pulse-rates joined as one. But music’s intoxicating potential lasts only as long as the stimulus itself. Once the sounds evaporate, behaviors generally return to their pre-music-influenced state. As Susanne K. Langer observed in her landmark treatise, Philosophy in a New Key, “the behavior of concert audiences after even the most thrilling performances makes the traditional magical influence of music on human actions very dubious. Its somatic effects are transient, and its moral hangovers or uplifts seem to be negligible.”

Langer’s observation, along with the Civil War example, contrasts with claims prominent in the eighteenth century. Books such as Richard Brocklesby’s Reflections on Ancient and Modern Musick (1749) came with bold subtitles, like “Applications to the Cure of Diseases.” Modern thinkers and researchers refrain from claims that music somehow permanently impacts temperament or disposition. This is why, for instance, music therapy (both active and receptive) tends to be periodic and ongoing, and is typically administered in conjunction with other therapeutic and medicinal treatments.

None of this challenges the fact that music is strongly connected to feelings. If anything, the fleetingness of music-induced sensations sustains our attraction to the art form. It is largely why we return to the same music again and again, and long for musical interludes in our busy lives. These brief mood changes and moments of escape play a revitalizing role, temporarily recharging or redirecting our emotions without causing lingering distractions.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.

Moved from Within

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.

Visit Jonathan’s website to keep up on his latest endeavors, browse his book and article archives, and listen to sample compositions.