We are Like Puppets on a String – Music is the Master!

You know it’s true. Just a few minutes of Here Comes the Bride – or God Bless America – or Taps – and your emotions are in play. Your heart doesn’t resist. You yield control to the masters for the duration of the journey.

SOMETIMES WE GIVE MUSIC THE KEYS INTENTIONALLY. Time for a mood change? The right music can adjust heart rates and bring in a surge of new emotions. Feeling isolated? Sharing music can align breathing and enable connection.

Daniel Levitin, Professor of Psychology at McGill University says, “The rhythm and other characteristics of the songs we select can modulate our heart rates and the activity of our brain’s neural networks. Music activates nearly every region of brain we’ve mapped so far. This hints at music’s universality and power to affect us.

BUT IT CAN ALSO BE A MASTER OF STEALTH. Sometimes music can be pulling our strings without our awareness. When we watch a movie or TV show, our focus is on the action and dialogue, while the music is slipping in the back door – making us anticipate, or feel relief or fear.

I recently watched “The Confession” – a multi-part series about a real-life police officer searching for victims. I had subtitles activated, so the musical descriptions were displayed along with the dialogue. Because I could actually hear the music, these cues repeatedly brought my attention to the emotional threads. Here is the musical storyline for just a few minutes while the characters were driving through the countryside on their way to a burial site.

Dark ambient music. – suspenseful music – birds singing – tense music – children laughing – dramatic music – engine revving – tense music – melancholy music – phone ringing – somber music – swelling with dramatic music – ominous music – helicopter whirs – breathes heavily – helicopter whirs – birds singing – eerie ominous music …

THE PUPPET STRINGS ARE VISIBLE. With those descriptions we can actually see the soundscape. And we can appreciate the artistry that goes into it. Without the subtitles, most of us are blissfully unaware that the puppet master is at work. Of course, when I read “melancholy music” I then noticed how sad and wistful I was already feeling.

AND FOR OUR NON-HEARING FRIENDS. This exercise has certainly made me reflect on how different our experiences of the story must be for deaf viewers. How are the words “ominous music” processed?

Here’s a related article from Time Magazine, You Asked: Is Listening to Music Good For Your Health?

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *