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« Dinosaurs in the Classroom | Main | God's worst linguists »

December 20, 2006


"To instill happiness, for example, they played a jazzy version of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3."

I imagine they used the version by the Jacques Loussier Trio. I don't know the performance, nor do I know Ron Carter's rendition, but I have enjoyed Loussier's arrangements of other classical works. I'm now eager to hear both.

I wonder how they went about deciding what music would "instill happiness." This piece is wildly familiar, only slightly less so than, say, Beethoven's Third, Fifth, or Ninth Symphonies (sources of very different sorts of happiness) or Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, among classical works. Loussier's trio's performance is obviously far less familiar, but the "feel" of Loussier's ensemble, a jazz piano trio, is iconic. I get the impression these psychologists are equating happiness with a kind of familiarity: innocuous, but playful if also predictable.

I too found it slightly amusing (and bemusing) that the researchers knew exactly which piece of music to play "to instill happiness." I guess they decided on a choice which according to them, was a "safe bet" like a glass of wine or chocolate. Exactly as you suggest - innocuous, familiar and predictable.

Be wary of what "happy" tune you listen to or whistle on days that you have to attend to methodical and detail oriented work at the library. You might make a mess in your euphoria! On such days, it will be prudent to read up on what scientists have to say about art and religion to put you in the appropriately meticulous state of mind. :-)

This talk of music to make a person happy reminds me of what happened at my yoga class a few years ago. The instructor was playing some kind of new agey musical mishmash that was supposed to promote the feeling of peace, tranquility, uplifting etc. while we were supposed to be meditating. I say 'supposed' because all the music did was to annoy me tremendously. It bore enough of a resemblance to Indian classical music, but had western harmonies injected ( probably to not startle the Western listener, unfortunately very startling to me since I've been trained in S.Indian classical music.What was worse was that this music had lots of unresolved rising scales, without matching descents, that drove me crazy, and I promptly pointed it out to the instructor, who was definitely puzzled at my opposition to what he perceived as soothing and uplifting.
One man's Muzak is another's Cacophonix, I guess!

When in my office at the library, I tend to stream WFMU's wildly eclectic programs. They have funk, progressive, punk, death metal, noise, pop...the works. Keeps me on my toes. And check out their blog. Today's posts include a DJ's Top Ten for 2006, on which Sitar Beat!—Indian Style Heavy Funk Vol. 1 appears. Beats the dorky so-called world music—what music isn't of the world, anyway?—trappings of new age synthesizer-diluted pablum. I don't share Sujatha's solid understanding of the forms and formalities of Carnatic music, but I do love the stuff: curious virtuoso mandolin recitals, for instance, or saxophone!

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