Everyone loves music?

For today’s blog post I was thinking about writing something that would be universally appreciated (going for the popular vote already, how disappointing) but in asking around I have found that something I thought was universal – Music – is somewhat divisive after all.

I don’t mean divisive in the sense of different tastes or preferences either, it really is divisive in the sense that while some people would be happy to have a constant musical background to life most of the time (I have play lists for most things I do) there are some who never  listen to music. Ever.

This came as an alien concept for me as long as I remember I have always had music around the house. My parents and siblings were into music, my wife and daughter are too, not like any of these people are musical as a profession or anything, but now that I find out that some people do not listen for at least an hour or so a day I have to imagine that my family are the musical sort.

So I diligently did a bit of research and found ‘Musical anhedonia’ to be a recognised phenomenon. Anhedonia in general (/ˌænhiˈdoʊniə/ an-hee-doh-nee-ə; Greek: ἀν- an-, “without” and ἡδονή hēdonē, “pleasure” – from Wikipedia) can be applied to a vast array of activities in which the person or persons have a distinct apathy towards a subject,, and derive no pleasure from it.  People have been found to experience this in relation to many different things and in the past I have heard of it in terms of sexual anhedonia, which means that (mostly men) can take part in and achieve orgasm without the related reward system – all the mess and none of the pleasure!. Ok, this paragraph got a bit more adult than planned, let’s move on.

I suppose what surprised me about this is that music does not just cause one emotional response and its hard to say that you can summarise an experience into having enjoyed it or not. Sometimes music will be uplifting and evocative, carry with it a sense of personal or national pride such as with an anthem. some of the most enjoyable music I listen too could be considered as emotionally low or even depressing. There is a reason this sort of music often appeals to teenagers, the expression of anxiety and low mood helps them feel kinship when they are at a confusing hormonal stage (I can’t really understand country western music however, this is permanently depressing, maybe that’s because America is the world’s teenage country, bold, brave careless and unable to be taught?).

My further reading to try to get an idea of how many people are affected by this absence of emotional response to music turned up an article from the Telegraph in 2014 in which a study was taken that led to an estimate that as much as 5% of people receive no emotional response to music. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10687919/Dont-like-music-Scientists-explain-why.html) which strikes me as rather high when I consider how much of the human experience is tied into music.

Imagine if when the bride walked down the aisle there was no music playing at all? the semi-silent shuffle of uncomfortable while shoes dragging the weight of the bridal train from one end of the room to the other with only occasional coughing echoing in the background – wouldn’t that seem weird?

When we see films, tv shows and video games an amazing amount of effort is put into finding the right incidental music to align the viewers emotional state with that of the people on-screen and complete the story – do people who don’t get emotionally involved with music fail to hit the emotional cues in other media as a consequence?  Try thinking of your favourite film from last year, I bet there was some cracking music involved in that memory.

I wonder also if this goes further in respect to emotional recollection.  It’s surprising how often I listen to a song from 10 or 15 years ago and feel the memories come flying into focus of things I was doing at the time, people I was with, happy days and bad days.  If you don’t feel this emotional reward from the music, do you still get the emotional response to the memory? do you even get the memory?

I thought everyone enjoyed music and that it was a case of different people enjoying different things. I am pleased I am someone who has always enjoyed listening to and making music but I would love to hear from people who don’t and get an idea of what its like to watch a film or enjoy a party without the satisfaction of the music.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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