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Music and emotions

The ancient Greeks believed in order for a society to exist and sustain itself, three structures needed to be consecutively put into place. First, a military in order to protect the citizens and secure land on which to live; second, engineers, scientists, and farmers to provide food and shelter; and finally, musicians, artists, poets, and writers to preserve the culture of their society. While the arts may not have been viewed as necessary for physical survival, today almost anyone asked would agree with the statement, “Yes, I like music, I frequently listen to it and can’t imagine living without it.

When was the last time you put music on to express your current mood? Or perhaps you had the radio playing, and heard a song which inspired a new mood? If so, you experienced the idea that music profoundly influences our daily outlook, deemed by musicians of the Baroque period as a process of regulating one’s “affections”.

Whereas much of the music of household name Mozart is beautifully accessible and “balanced”, the music of the previous era, the Baroque period, often expressed emotion in all of its substance, grandeur and fullness. Consider the intensity of legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin performing a portion of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in d minor:

If one accepts music’s influence, it is no surprise it is used extensively in national celebrations and memorials, advertisements, religious services — and has at times been banned by authority organizations to maintain order of society. When Finnish composer Jean Sibelius premiered Finlandia, a work for orchestra and chorus, in Helsinki in 1900, it was censored by the Russian Empire who held control of the nation at that time for inspiring the Finnish citizens to (eventual) national independence.

If music is indeed this powerful, it follows discretion may be used to determine which music is allowed to influence one’s mind, heart, and will. What thoughts will it inspire? Will it modify actions and words? Seen from another perspective, what effect would listening to sad or angry music have on someone? There is certainly plenty of music to choose from which expresses these emotions - how much of this is healthy, and when is enough, enough?

Consider one more well-known example of Bach’s Prelude in G, performed by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma:

When listening to a piece as uplifting as this prelude, it is no small wonder the piece is continually studied, performed and enjoyed three centuries later. Perhaps, in a way, musicians are curators of positive influence, providing opportunities for refreshment, reflection, order, testament and sheer enjoyment.

Has there been a time when you turned music off due to how it was making you feel, in order to guard your heart and preserve your mind? There may not be a concise answer. What we do know is that music moves us, and provides a vital element in the human experience.

What’s next on your playlist?

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