Being Remade Through Music

Students tend to spend hours a day plugged into their tunes. Their musical lives may well be their spiritual lives. It makes them feel more vital, vigorous, intense. Usually it's about getting your emotions packaged for you, quieting the static inside, fabricating an exciting identity (the gangsta, the hipster) to counteract one's commitment to a life of secure banality.

Most music listening, like most reading, is passive. It's about girl watching rather than woman wooing, which is a tougher game. Schopenhauer says that most reading is letting other people think your thoughts for you. I'd add that most music listening is about letting other people feel your feelings for you.

Feel them for yourself, I say. Then shout them out loud. And sing them too. Do it for your own pleasure. It doesn't matter whether anyone is listening.

Mark Edmundson writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education

My cultural preferences are God ordained

A young boy complains to his father that most of the church hymns are boring to him because they are so far behind the times. His father becomes angry and states that "the hymns are good enough for your grandfather and me, and they will serve you just as well." But the teenager says that not only are the tunes boring, but the words are meaningless ... the songs are just too old fashioned. Putting an end to the discussion, his father says to him, "Well, if you think you can write better hymns, then why don't you?" The son says that he will. He goes to his room and writes his first hymn.

The year was 1690, the teenager was Isaac Watts, and the hymn was "Behold the Glories of the Lamb." During the next few years he wrote other songs. "We're marching to Zion", "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", and "Joy to the World" are among the almost 350 hymns he created. The lyrics were his own but sometimes the melodies were similar in origin to Luther's ... seized from the streets or from popular theatre.

Larry Norman, liner Notes to In Another Land

seeing who's a winner

What matters most in a music competition—the music, right? Before you answer, consider this study: Some volunteers were asked to guess which performers won classical music competitions after listening to audio of the contest. Others were given audio and video of the performances. A third group got the video with no sound. Despite not hearing a note, the last group, going off of video without audio, guessed the winners better than the volunteers who could actually hear the performances. These volunteers were not just music fans—they were amateur and professional musicians. Both these volunteers and the actual judges of the contests allowed the visual image to outweigh the music itself when judging its value.

Researcher took the study one step further by trying to figure out what made the difference. If you think it was the attractiveness of the performer, think again. The social cues related to passion and creativity provided the biggest indication as to which performances would be judged award winning.

Often what we say we value (in this case, the music itself) takes a backseat to what we really value (the performer's visual presentation flare and appearance).

Details of the study are in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can read it here.

Stephen Goforth

Seeing music

When Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn at the Metropolitan Opera of New York (Met for short), the screens had just gone up in the practice hail. At the time, there were no women in the brass section of the orchestra, because everyone “knew” that women could not play the horn as well as men. But Landsman came and sat down and played—and she played well.

But when they declared her the winner and she stepped out from behind the screen, there was a gasp. It wasn’t just that she was a woman, and female horn players were rare.. And it wasn’t just that bold, extended high C, which was the kind of macho sound that they expected from a man only. It was because they knew her. Landsman had played for the Met before as a substitute. Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good.

When the screen created a pure Blink moment, a small miracle happened, the kind of small miracle that is always possible when we take charge of the first two seconds: they saw her for who she truly was.

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink