Most of us have known this for years, but it seems that research by the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science finally proves that “listening to and performing music has been shown to have a positive, biological effect on mood and stress levels”. Evidence came from a survey of saliva samples, readings from ECG monitors (to which 15 singers and 49 audience members with various degrees of musical experience were voluntarily strapped), and the results from a questionnaire. The concert that produced this research? Eric Whitacre’s choral music at the Union Chapel in London in March.And here is sample of Eric Whitacre's music:
Very pretty, indeed. But the reason I liked the column is that Tom goes on to point out the problem with this whole scientific/therapeutic way of looking at music:
There’s another dimension, too. Insisting on the stress-reducing effects of music, especially the soft-focused choral works of a composer such as Whitacre, is one thing. But music has more than that to offer. If reducing stress was the primary driver of musical expression over the centuries, musical culture would not have developed very far or become as meaningful as it is.
The levels of emotional intensity and intellectual stimulation produced by everything from Monteverdi to Mozart, Beethoven to Bruckner, Stockhausen to Xenakis, all create a kind of transcendence that comes from going to places of expressive extremity – and sometimes darkness and desperation - that would otherwise be dangerous to confront directly. In other words, it’s music that puts you through a stressful experience. It’s a positive stress perhaps, but it’s stress nonetheless... Music as palliative be damned: let’s hear it for stress!Yes, exactly. People who have only a peripheral understanding of music are always trying to assimilate it to something else: sociology, therapy, intellectual activity, culture, politics, ideology and a host of other things. But music is, dare I say, music? It is its own universe and Tom, and every other music-lover, understands this. It takes us on journeys to places nothing else does. It can calm, yes, but it can excite, annoy, transcend, inspire, tweak and do a thousand other things.
My title refers to a seminal album from the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix' "Are You Experienced?" which is certainly an example of the unique qualities of music:
That dates from 1967. For another example, here is something just as stimulating from 1767. This is Haydn, Symphony No. 35 in B flat major with L'Estro Armonico, dir. Derek Solomons:
Now, can we have samples of everyone's saliva to test for stress? (Say, did they ever try and test for delight instead?)