Taking Back Sunday


Article by Sharone Houri

I’m not sure about what music you’re into, but when Ludovico Einaudi comes up on my Spotify shuffle, my soul’s dancing.

I discovered my love for piano when I dated a man who played like it was his unquestionable destiny.

When I first met him, he told me he was a fan of the piano. I was intrigued and asked him to play something, expecting nothing more than an extended version of Doh-Reh-Me.

Oh, but he played.

He started with Nuvole Bianche, and ended with Yiruma’s masterpiece, The River Flows in You.

His speedy fingers ran through the keyboard with eyes shut, while he flawlessly moved with the notes.

I stared in disbelief.

I was fascinated yet concerned with my own well being.

The music triggered feelings that I wasn’t familiar with. The melodies were absorbed through my veins, and the beat pierced my soul.


Why music is so powerful

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

I was so touched that it almost felt like an ache — heading straight for the heart at an impossibly swift rate.

I was at a loss for words, and unwilling to compromise with the dying urge to simply cry. The tears just came, one after the other. No predictions or warning signs — Just the simple truth.

I felt so vulnerable, yet alive. I felt simultaneously small, yet powerful. I wanted to record the song and imprint it in my blood, so it would quietly linger there forever.

.    .    .

The truth is, what I described above may not be felt by everyone. Some people may feel that with another type of music, and for some, nothing at all.

But what is behind the power of music? What makes it so undeniably irresistible to the gates of the soul, and why does it only dominate certain people?

Here’s what I found:

// Nostalgia

Listening to music that was often played during a significant life event, such as a family celebration, or perhaps a breakup may leave some prints. It can trigger a deeply nostalgic emotional experience, and a musical scar. The feeling is not the music but the experience it reminds us of.

This is also relevant to lyrics associated with a song. If one speaks of sadness and longing, it will be marked by ones who have lived such miseries. Another about the power of being positive, may speak to ones who see the world in the eyes of the good.

Perhaps music reinforces what we long to remember.

// The Universal Language of Emotion

When I often hear “actions speak louder than words”, I think to myself that sometimes music can speak louder than anything.

Strings of poetry integrated into a structure of sounds are perhaps one of the greatest ways to say what you don’t want to say.

Music is a language of emotion in that it can represent different feelings and barge into the soul with no boundaries or limitations. People are always challenged by the fact that “no one understands them” or know how they “really feel”, so they turn to music.

In times of distress, we all do. Often times we may even notice that depending on the situation, we will literally believe the song was written for us. This is what I call the musical epiphany or the “sign”.

Music also has the capacity to imitate emotions. The temporal patterns of music mimic our emotional lives — The introduction, buildup, climax, and closure. A slow tempo will naturally represent sadness, while a more upbeat tune is more courageous and happy.

The slow beat resembles sadness and slowness you may expect in an individual with depression, while an upbeat tone will represent someone full of energy, bathing in what we call joy.

// Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy or emotional contagion is when perceiving an emotion can sometimes provoke the same emotion.

If you’re heading to work while listening to a sad playlist featuring Adele, the odds are, you won’t be so hyped when you walk into your office.

We have the ability to empathize with music and be influenced by its components. This is important to consider when shaping our perceptions or our mood to start the day.

If you’re dealing with a breakup or a negative event in your life, instead of reinforcing this mood, you may want to change your playlist to Dua Lipa for a brave come back.

// The Auditory Cheesecake

Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist, likes to label music as an “auditory cheesecake”. This means that music is a cocktail of recreational drugs that we absorb through the ear to trigger multiple pleasure circuits at once.

Like other rewards such as food and money, pleasurable music activates the pleasure and reward system. When we stick to a certain song or beat, we like it to be repeated endlessly, since we almost can’t get enough of it.

The bottom line is that just like we need food or water when we’re hungry or thirsty, music is needed to satisfy our emotional desires for connection and meaning.

Taking Back SundayPhoto by: © Garrett Poulos

// Admiration

Why Music is So PowerfulTurns out there’s a reason why I cry when I listen to Ludovico or Yiruma.

Music will often make us feel like crying because we experience a sense of awe and admiration. Music makes us feel.

Anything that will make us experience or stir emotions that really dive into our interpersonal space, will make us curious or amazed.

This awe feeling is backed up by our sensitivity to what other minds are capable of creating, and appreciating the greatness of humanity’s talent. We are simply overwhelmed by such a power to move a soul and to undress the many layers of the human shield.

In response to these emotions, we experience goosebumps and even a motivation to improve ourselves and to improve society.

Perhaps songs, lyrics, and cords are their own forms of saying hello, goodbye, or to presumably reinforce the unsilent silence we wish others could understand.

Featured image by: © Garrett Poulos

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