For various reasons I have had to think about the effect of music on mood, and while this area of thought is not a new one for me (because as a musical person and a poet I have always been strongly affected by the lyrics and mood of songs). As a person who tends to observe and reflect, I have had plenty of occasions to reflect on the nearly instantaneous effects of music on mood. To give but one example (with many more to come), I found that while I could listen to Keane in the car (given my proclivity to melancholy), I simply could not bear to hear Enya in the car while I was driving, since I tend to be a bit more stressed out than usual when I drive, especially in heavy traffic.
But while New Age music simply does not register with the way I am feeling when I drive, simply because I am not in any mood to feel the vibes that the music is sending, there are other songs that are very dangerous to play while one is driving. An old friend and I, when I would ride shotgun in his car, would blast the song “Move B@#!%” in his car (the uncensored version, even though I am not the sort of person who is given to swear very much),” and every time we did so, the speedometer would go to about 80 or so, regardless of what road it was on. Some songs are just not suitable for safe driving, because of the mood that they put you in.
As human beings we are intensely susceptible to moods and sentiments that come from outside. While I know that I would like to think of myself as a person who was entirely rational and proper in my thinking patterns, I know that is simply not so, as much as I would wish it to be. Hearing a certain song, or even seeing a certain look on someone’s face, is going to put me in a certain mood. And I know that if this is true for me, it is probably true for many others as well, even if they are not conscious of the way that we are influenced and even sometimes manipulated by the communications of others. Music is especially powerful because it is not on the rational level of discourse, where we could agree or disagree, but it plays directly on the heartstrings by giving us a direct physiological response that bypasses our rational thought process.
A great deal of effort is spent by people, whether they are friends or family, businesses or governments, to motivate the moods and sentiments of others. This is done for a variety of reasons. We do not generally think critically or rationally about our sentiments, or understand how others try to appeal to them (often successfully), and so we are somewhat easy marks for those who can appeal to our feelings, as opposed to the ferocity we often respond with to those who try to engage us on a rational level where we may strongly disagree for emotional reasons. Because we are not purely rational beings we cannot focus our attention on purely rational aspects of communication, but we ought to be aware of how and why people would try to manipulate us emotionally.
And music has a lot to do with that. One of my many musical interests is seeking to understand the way in which a film score can evoke strong feelings in the part of an audience, even though I am certainly no composer myself. It is easy to see the power of a good film score (for example: Star Trek: Nemesis) when one feels the difference between just the dialogue and the images and when the evocative music is added. Of course, some scores (Philip Glass’ score for The Hours comes to mind) detract from the film watching experience by bringing attention to their repetitiousness and dissonance instead of handling it subtly.
All of these are interrelated problems. We need to be aware of the fact that we are all capable of having our emotions played on by others. We ought to pay attention to both appeals to reason as well as emotion, all the more because emotional appeals are generally based on sentiments rather than arguments. Ultimately speaking, our heads and our hearts have to be on the same page–our thoughts need to be grounded in the right kind of sentiments, and we need to show compassion and understanding of others as a way of demonstrating how our solutions and plans meet those deeper needs and concerns. Hopefully we can all get to the point where we are wise and sincere and open in both head and heart, and where we are able to recognize our existence in its full wonder.