December 9, 2011, by Stephen Mumford
This week I visited the Department of Music at the University of Nottingham to hear about the good work they have been doing. While it was a management meeting in my role as Dean it did lead me in the days that followed to consider the importance of music to us as human beings.
Little else seems able to touch us emotionally and spiritually as much as music. It can alter our mood within seconds. It can make us joyful or sorrowful, pensive or courageous. Music is almost the only thing that can reduce me to tears, not just if it is solemn but also when it is evocative of memories of the past highs and lows of life.
Emotions are typically cognitive in nature. One is sad because one believes something regrettable has occurred or happy when one believes something wonderful has happened. Arguably it makes no sense to have these emotions unless one has those beliefs. Yet music seems able to manipulate our feelings directly, often unmediated by any beliefs about the world.
Music enhances our existence in an immeasurable way. Could one really imagine a world without it? And yet something so precious is often neglected as an academic discipline. I was disappointed to hear of one major UK university deciding to close music. There is an industry that understands its financial value but I would argue for a value that goes beyond that and which is for the musicologists and philosophers of music to explore.
The University of Nottingham Music Department is to be found here:
Quite agree about the value of music. I’d only add that I can be equally moved by other forms of art. (I nearly wept in the MoMA recently when I saw the late, pure abstract paintings of Willem de Kooning.) So let’s hope universities *and* politicians remember: the arts do, indeed, matter.
I cptelomely agree! I have always thought of my love of books, art, and music as being intricately connected. Also, my parents have always been big advocators of ALL art education, not just music. Research shows that children who participate in musical organizations tend to be better students overall, etc, but I love how you express here very eloquently your personal interpretation of the importance of art in our lives.
Music moves the soul without a doubt. It’s also the most evocative thing I can think of in terms of sparking memories. Nice blog Stephen.
Music does go straight to the emotions and from what I’ve read, this is related to the way the brain processes speech: extracting emotion from intonation etc. is a separate process from interpreting the words, and it’s possible that music is older than speech.
It’s been suggested, though, that music isn’t very specific about what emotion is being communicated. The music might be emotionally intense, but is it intense anger, intense fear, or general turmoil? It’s possible that we need other cues besides the music. Or maybe this is an advantage because it can connect whatever a particular listener needs it to.
And of course for a player, the emotion conjured up on hearing a piece might be trepidation as a passage approaches which you know from experience is a horribly difficult and exposed one for the performer . . .
Music is my life..I can’t spend a single day without listening music..