Those things that most enrich our lives - striking art, expressive music, a warm hearth - are often most difficult to define purely scientifically. They exist on another level, another plane, one that transcends the world for a time and helps us understand the inexpressible, moving past simple reality. Music, in particular, engages this alternate set of senses with particular frequency - “Only art penetrates...the seeming realities of this world,” said Nobel Prize laureate Saul Bellow. “There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of - this other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we cannot receive.”
Neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre have found that the act of listening to pleasurable music links the emotion and logic centers of the brain, activating emotional and reward responses in much the same way smells tend to activate memories. Essentially, part of the power of music comes from 1) expecting it to go a certain way, and 2) reacting accordingly, based on whether or not the prediction was accurate. While this begins to explain people’s baseline emotional reactions, scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint the nature of music’s transcendental power - how it can make us feel emotions we do not understand.
Alduous Huxley touches on this idea in his 1931 collection, Music At Night & Other Essays, saying that, “All the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed… After silence, that which comes nearest...is music.” The emotional breadth of music taps into existing experiences and forgotten possibilities lying deep beneath the surface of rationality. “There is...a certain blessedness lying at the heart of things,” Huxley says - a blessedness that goes beyond understanding.
Part of this is linked to music’s role as a universal language of mankind, connecting people across time and space, but the core of it is less definable. Our own Maestro, David Mairs, says that, “[Music] helps me get in touch with what’s really inside there, and expresses those emotions that in some ways are inexpressible.” This idea, at its core, is the reason for the annual power of certain Christmas carols - voices joined together singing songs with weighty cultural, historical, and personal significance. The Mid-Texas Symphony Concert No. 3 features an emotionally evocative program, opening with Vivaldi’s powerful choral “Gloria” and including assorted Christmas carols, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”, and a Children’s Chorus!
Get your tickets for Concert No.3 on December 11 today and understand why the Victorian philosopher Thomas Carlyle proclaimed that, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”