Music: Its Expressive Qualities and the Arousal of Emotion Within its Listeners By Zachary M. Matook
Imagine standing amongst a concert crowd, the lights have just have been dimmed to darkness during the buildup in your favorite song, and the guitar gradually becomes louder and louder as if it were coming from the distance. You see the silhouettes of the band members; you may not even know the person next to you, yet you both share in this energy filling the room. Then boom, the sound shakes the floor beneath you, the lights explode with colors, and you feel the music move through your body and the hairs on the back of your neck raise. This feeling, this moment we all love when listening to the most moving music, is one of pure emotional arousal induced by musical expression. It takes your breath away for a brief moment, almost connecting you with the music itself.
Since its beginnings, music has been used as a tool for manipulating our emotions. There have been sad songs, uplifting songs, inspirational songs, and songs of hatred. But, regardless of the artist or musician’s intention, almost all music is created with the goal of affecting the listener in some way. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of making or listening to music? Of course there are those who only make music for the money, but these are not artists, they are just the vessels through which this commercial noise is played. When someone wants to hear a favorite song if theirs, its not because they want to take pleasure in just hearing the sounds it produces, but rather because they enjoy the feeling or feelings it arouses within them.
There are individuals who believe that this arousal of emotion comes from musical devices such as the colorful harmonies of a piece of music, others say it is the melody, and there are also those who assert it is a result of a response to rhythmic patterns. Some look at the bigger picture, and hold the idea that music’s ability to arouse emotion is a result of its representing human experience. But what is it about music that really causes us to feel these emotions? Is it melody specifically? Harmony? Rhythms? I, along with many others, argue that it is the unity of these devices creating an expression of human experience that arouses our emotions, and this capacity to arouse is a main criterion by which music, along with the other arts, should be judged. Here marks the beginning of my composition, my attempt at proving the existence of this musical phenomenon.
Songs do not become people’s favorites because they are very technical and utilize complicated musical theory, but because the experience of listening is enjoyable and most likely arouses an emotionally positive feeling or sought emotional state within the listener. Someone might object and say, “music is just organized sound that a listener likes or dislikes”. What they fail to realize is that music is much more than that; it serves a much greater purpose. According to John Blacking, as he states in his article entitled The Value of Music in Human Experience, “The function of music is to enhance in some way the quality of individual experience and human relationships; its structures are reflections of patterns of human relations, and the value of a piece of music is inseparable from its value as an expression of human experience” (Blacking, 34). This “enhancing” is one becoming “keenly aware of the true nature of their being, of the “other self” within themselves and other human beings, and of their relationships with the world around them (Blacking, 38). Thus, the composer or artist creates a song or piece in order that he or she may share and relate his or her experiences with those of the listeners or performers, not to simply create a pattern of sound. This, I argue, is done through a mimetic expression of human experience.
Harold Osborne believes that music focuses on representations, “not between musical patterns and the dynamic structure of...
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