The Sound of Silence
Over the years whenever I’ve felt down, distressed or simply in need of motivation, I’ve found myself resorting to music to save me from despair. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people but I sometimes worry about my overreliance on the comfort of a good song. I don’t often think this but it occurs to me when I receive frowns at work because I’m plugged in on the day of a deadline and bobbing my head along to a song (so much better than listening to other people freak out around you when you’re trying to concentrate). I guess the only awkward thing about my habit is that I don’t listen to what the majority would call soothing or inspirational music. For some reason, loud headbanging tunes are what help me relax the most (oh, the paradox!). It probably helps that I never pay too much attention to lyrics; I am more interested in how the music fills me up and distracts me from reality.
Unfortunately this blissful experience has started to draw close to an end. In the last couple of months I’ve developed a strange reaction to songs – whenever I listen to these supposedly calming tunes, I’ve actually started to hear what the artist has to say! It’s not that I haven’t ever listened to lyrics before (duh, that would be weird), it’s just that it has taken me years to open my ears to the real meaning of lyrics I’ve been listening to all this time and the effect is shocking. I find myself tearing up at my desk when I’m supposed to be focusing on work because I’ve only just realised the profoundness of the lyrics of a song I’ve had on my iPod for years. At first I enjoyed this new phase of awakening – I hadn’t realised so many songs were written about drug addiction/abuse and covered up with cheery beats! But then it started to get really annoying especially last week when I had to skip a lot of songs because they reminded me too much of an old friend I have not been in touch with for a while and probably shouldn’t have been thinking about in the first place.
I spent some time wondering why this has started to happen now and I realised it could be because I’m finally at an age where I have enough life experiences for the words to have a real impact on me. For instance, as much as we think we can relate to a million and one songs about lost or unrequited love, we can’t fully appreciate a song about heartache until we’ve gone through it. It’s so obvious that I feel a bit silly writing it down but it only truly hit me recently. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it in relation to other life experiences. Before I learnt how to drive, I didn’t understand the thrill of a car chase in movies. As far as I could see, actors drove really fast down a busy road, taking what appeared to be sharp corners and somehow kept control of their vehicles. Big deal. Then I passed my driving test and realised that once you know how difficult it is to manoeuvre a car round a bend at regular speed, the thrill of silly movies with extended car chase scenes is clear (oh yes, bring on The Fast and the Furious).
Today I came across an abstract of the findings of an experiment to explore the role of lyrics and melodies in conveying emotions in songs, conducted at the Department of Psychology, American University, Washington, DC. During their experiments they found that “…lyrics detracted from the emotion in happy and calm music (positive emotions), but enhanced the emotion in sad and angry music (negative emotions). In all cases, melodies of songs were more dominant than the lyrics in eliciting emotions…”
So that’s it? I simply have to switch from songs with words to instrumental pieces to avoid heightened emotions? How boring would that be? I like classical music et al but I’m not sure I can survive with no lyrics at work. Maybe I have to stick with “happy and calm music” from now on and refrain from “sad and angry music.” Hmmm, I guess sometimes silence is better.