Everyone knows how a song can open us to emotion. Most of us probably have songs that make us cry, songs that make us nostalgic for our youth, songs that make it impossible not to dance. And as we go into the holiday season, there are doubtless songs that make us homicidal, particularly the ones that get repeated endlessly on piped-in mall music.
Some of this can be attributed to memory and meaning: the song was playing during our first kiss, or the words remind us of a lost love. But some of it is purely the music itself. Have you ever had the experience of a particular violin or cello strain cracking you open? Of certain music making you cry, because, for whatever reason, it aches?
Science is still studying why it’s the case that music can have such a powerful emotional effect. A recent study showed that listening to music can affect how we perceive neutral human faces: happy music makes us see them as happier, for example. But why it has this effect is not fully known.
One theory the writer of the Scientific American article linked above has is that music is connected with human movement. Music, after all, is a series of sounds made possible by human movement: breath, pressure, bowing, pressing keys, strumming strings, striking drums, and so on. And music inspires us to dance, or to close our eyes and go inside ourselves to listen.
Ilana Rubenfeld trained as a symphonic conductor at Julliard, and was herself a violinist. Her approach to her work was highly musical, and she knew how powerfully music was connected to emotion. She saw our bodies as our most valuable instruments, and our lives as ongoing symphonies. That may sound Pollyannic, but it may actually be literally true, and may be the key to discovering why music is so – literally – moving.
In my sessions, I strive to connect the person I’m working with to their own internal instrument. To listen to their own breath, to be moved by their own movements (interesting that sections of symphonies and concertos are also called “movements”), to discover what their song sounds like right now. Some people are more musical than others, but most people can be connected to their rhythms, to the pulse of what makes them human and alive.