POP CULTURE: Why Music Works


One of the most calming things that societies
have ever devised is the lullaby. In almost every culture there has ever been, mothers
have rocked and sung their babies to sleep. A humbling point that a lullaby reveals is
that it’s not necessarily the words of a song that make us feel more tranquil. The
baby doesn’t understand what’s being said but the sound has its effect all the same.
The baby is showing us that we are all tonal creatures long before we are creatures of
understanding. As adults, we grasp the significance of words of course, but there remains a sensory
level which cuts through and affects us far more than an argument or idea ever could. The
musician can, at points, trump anything the philosopher might tell us. Ancient Greek mythology
was fascinated by the story of the famous musician Orpheus. At one point he had to rescue
his wife from the underworld. To get there he needed to make his way past Cerberus the
ferocious three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the land of the dead. Orpheus
was said to have played such sweet, enchanting music that the wild beast calmed down and
became – for a while – mild and docile. The Greeks were giving themselves a reminder
of the psychological power of music. Orpheus didn’t reason with Cerberus, he didn’t
try to explain how important it was that he should be allowed to pass, he didn’t speak
about how much he loved his wife and how much he wanted her back. Cerberus was – as we
ourselves are at times of distress – pretty much immune to reason. But he was still open
to influence. It was just a matter of finding the right channel to reach him. When we feel anxious
or upset, kindly people sometimes try to comfort us by pointing to facts and ideas: they try
to influence our thinking and – via careful arguments – to quieten our distress. But,
as with Cerberus, the most effective way to deal with the problem may simply be to play
us some music. We might need to be quietened and made mild (by a lullaby, a Chopin prelude
or something by Natalie Merchant), before we are in any position to listen to reason. Music is the greatest mood adjustor we have ever invented. Its benefits can be broken
down as follows: Music can reunite us with feelings we need but have lost touch with. It reconciles
us to a sadness within, which we have had to be too be brave and stoic not to feel. It is the axe that
breaks the frozen sea within us. Music can lend dignity to our sorrows, framing and containing
what might otherwise be unmanageable grief. Music is there for us like a comforting parent
in moments of despair. Music returns us to life, gently nudging us to return to the side
of generosity and hope. We can follow in music’s grooves of confidence, when our own will is
sagging. Music is there to take us beyond the everyday, to transcend the ordinary and survey
ourselves from a lofty height. Music reconnects us with our instinctual, bodily selves when
reason, logic and discipline are in danger of crushing us. Music breaks down the barriers
between strangers – urging us to see what we have in common, rather than what divides
us. We fully discover our debt to music when we can acknowledge just how powerless we sometimes
are to change our moods through reason alone. A good life doesn’t only need a library of
ideas: it requires a vast and ever-changing playlist that can systematically tug us back
to our more hopeful, sensitive and resilient selves.




Comments
  1. Indian classical music! The purest replication of all of these emotions; how could one not bring it up while talking about the larger scale of music

  2. Gotta love how the editing uses this gorgeous Malian Kora Melody, and then proceeds to talk over it with Grecian cosmology.So "enlightening." ….

  3. This is precisely why music could be dangerous, for it easily paralyses people with comfortable ease and pleasure, thereby succumbing to the sounds without resorting to logic and reason. Watch philosopher Zizek's A Pervert's Guide to Ideology and you will see why: The Nazis love playing symphonies to publicise themselves, as well as the fascists in Italy singing to catch attention before Second World War.

  4. I wonder is music evolutionary like decades and centuries ago when nature songs were so wondersous and wide the sound of birds three the air gentle breezes through the trees and wolves and whales and all the sort. Played is are modern music seek to recreate that, was music ever so humble to exist all around us. And did they succumb to the modern refuse of sound pollution just like the sky and lands ubiquitous bounty and bewilder have retreated to our light polution. Have we built a modern Tower of Babel one that we can't escape its ruins for our own.

  5. the next question is why is it that people like me find some music too painful to be beneficial – like when the rhythmic element is too strong. At this point, as it were, music turns into noise. So when is noise music? And why is it different for different people? Or, more to the point, why do so many people agree on what is noise and what is music?

  6. Was it intentional that Katy Perry's song coincided with Cerberus being very much awake and chomping at the bit? 😀

  7. Enjoy the videos, and the narrator has a very soothing voice. I just wish he included the list of songs used in this video 😊

  8. 2:43 Wow, Janis Joplin singing "Trust Me" is terrible. The instrumental is okay, but at times her voice sounds like she smokes six packs of cigarettes a day. She also sounds like she's drunk.

  9. Superficial analysis. Music is much more than described here. Music can be used across the board for anything. Put a baby to sleep or as the FBI used in Waco to agitate and annoy.

  10. Sometimes music is an extremely rude and abusive intrusion. Like when you need to sleep and your neighbors are cranking up their stereo. Like when your having a pleasant drive and some horrible boom-car pulls up behind you. The music they have on this video is mostly good stuff, but what i hear on the radio, or movies, or YouTube is often disturbing and INTENDED to be disturbing. Sound is indeed powerful, and it is often abused, sometimes by incompetence and sometimes by malice. So I don't think music is a universal good. It's only good when it happens to be what you want to hear at the time. Personally, most of the time I prefer the sounds of nature to music. Perhaps that's the type of sound that we really need for health, wholeness, peace, and sanity. Sound runs the gamut from cat's purrs to jackhammers and so does the subcategory of sound called music. It ain't all so sweet I guarantee you that.

  11. too bad where ever you go they play the same brain-washing-catchy-tunes that they sell as music to get people hooked enough to open their wallets until the new song comes out to worm itself in the ears of people

  12. I don't want to be that guy….But when talkin about music shouldn't we include more Black musical artist. I know "The School of Life" is for a White western audience but still.

  13. Wow, I'm just astonished every single time I explore one of your episodes! They're all packed with the important and actually HELPFUL ideas that are directed toward our emotions and characters, something that resonates deeply with me, and will be a great inspiration for my own duty in the world.

    Thank you for your service.

  14. Music doesn't work you fools. It's distracting when piped into the public's ear without consent. Esp in stores, cafes, and banks where one is trying to make decisions about purchasing something or having a conversation. It's terrible. Yes music is important, but it's been abused. What if you don't want to have your emotions altered while you are shopping or reading a book? This is so one sided…sorry but you people have no idea that Pop music is a big lie, a big distraction trying to get you to the next commercial. The worst thing about it is the time you've allowed your children to listen to dumb songs rather then letting them find a purpose for their future lives.

  15. [after reading the short description of this video]… and i was wondering why the link to the script for this video wasn't working (i.e. not the words, but the feelings of muziks…)

  16. “Music is a science, it heals depression, it awakens, most people don’t know, they just take music for an entertainment, something to dance to, and enjoy yourself and you go to bed and forget it tomorrow, music must never be forgotten, it’s like a fountain that keeps on flowing.”

    – Peter Tosh

  17. Over promise click-bait title, "music works because it is powerful", might as well say music work because it works. The title should be "music works, we do not know why'".

  18. Lullaby: it’s not necessarily the words, but the sound has its effect all the same. Tone creatures before creatures of understanding. Sensory level: tonal level. Orpheus had to risk his life to go into the underworld, but he had to get past the three headed beast. Cerberus was, pretty much immune to reason, but open to influence. People try to point to facts and ideas, but the most effective way to deal with a problem is to play us some music. We might need to be quieted by a lullaby before we are in any position to listen to reason. Mood adjuster. Brave and Stoic; music is there for us like a confident parent in moment’s despair. Follow music’s confidence. Reason, logic; music breaks down the barrier with strangers. Change our moods through reason alone? It requires a vast and ever changing playlist that can tug us back to our best selves.

  19. We fail to express ourselves because languages do not cover the spectrum of feelings, not because we can't utilise words properly.
    And the comes music, it tries hardly to take responsibility and it does so well, but there's always a shortage ..
    The day we are finally able to express ourselves perfectly is not a day i look forward to.
    Life is in the possibilities of the imagination.

    As Kafka said: every language is but a terrible translation

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