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Music : December 03, 2000


The power of music

Bombay Jayashri Ramnath

The writer is a Carnatic musician based in Chennai.

Music has the power to cause emotions to well up within us. These feelings are gripping - often irresistible - and seem to emerge from nowhere. These feelings colour our moods, affect our perceptions and generate a behavioural pattern. The indisputable fact about music is its power to evoke emotions. Is there anyone, for whom, music is completely emotional - neutral? Music has the ability to inevitably tap the still, mysterious deep well of our emotions.

Avinash Pasricha

However, music can produce various emotional responses in different individuals and even different responses in the same person at different times. Music may produce expressions of various emotions - peaceful, relaxing, exciting, festive, boring, unsettling, unstimulating, invigorating ... and so on.

Music is an extremely versatile medium of communication. It is capable of exploring all the features that are used in verbal communication. Moreover, it does so in an explicit and structured way, which makes it an interesting and useful window into human communication, in general.

The repetition of a line as in a lullaby, the regular beating of a drum - they produce a feeling of physical ease and lull the child to sleep. The rhythmic sound of the train, of waves breaking on the shore, the song of a cricket at night - why, even the electric fan is able to produce a soothing physical quiet. But good music does not stop there. It touches our emotions. True music really far deeper and touches our very soul and leaves its imprint on us. It may not be possible to explain or describe this reaction in ordinary language. It can only be felt. It is one of those mystic experiences, which baffle analytical explanation.

Music is known to endow the listener with aesthetic or intellectual pleasure. It can be simple, complex, subtle, overt - and these features may reside in one of the different aspects of the music e.g. rhythm, melody. Some of the greatness of music however, lies in its holistic nature that all the elements form a unique wholeness which may not be understood by studying the parts separately. However complex, music is readily appreciated by the mind without the need for formal knowledge.

The lay listener may not be able to hear which instruments are playing, or which pitches are used. Yet, he or she may have no problem appreciating the music as a whole. An experienced listener, on the other hand, may be able to transcribe every note, but might still be at a loss to understand why the music is so pleasing to listen to even for the time!

As a performer, I believe that music can recreate emotions and get the listeners involved with my emotions. Any particular music has an inherent emotion. And, there is the emotion that one feels while rendering. Besides, the listener is in an emotional state while listening to that music - which is also important because it could be possible that this will now be linked to the emotional state of the listener. So he or she can use the song to recreate this emotion. Very often we hear people say "This is my song" and feel that special emotion again.

Rhythm and melody are two facets of music that lend themselves to enjoyment in their individual capacities. The experience of beat and rhythm has a simple relation with joy, well-being and even excitement. Babies spontaneously start to rock and move when they hear music with a pronounced beat in a medium or fast tempo. By changing rhythm, we can change the aesthetic appeal of a piece of music. Even a change of tempo can cause variations in the aesthetic appeal.

Similarly, melody, which is the soul of music, can create different types of feelings in listeners. Some melodies bring soulfulness, some sadness, some bring jubilance or tranquility.

Music is created from the heart and moulded by emotion. As musicians, we are inherently creative - so people say - and we have the ability to derive intense pleasure from a particular piece of music, which we listen to or produce. Here, I am referring to an aesthetic experience, which everybody must have felt. Tears of joy, a tug at the heart, goose pimples... True art always comes as an irresistible inner urge. We hear a song of Thyagaraja and are enthralled just as we gaze at a majestic temple or an ancient sculpture with wonder. All such works of art are the result of an inner urge. That is why it is something inherently beautiful.

... And there can be no enjoyment more impersonal and sublimating than what it offers. It prepares the very soul for something higher.


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