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Music, Consolation and the Body

Posted in: General by Maeve Heaney on February 1, 2013

In a recent blog, Tom Beaudoin spoke about bodily response to music at a concert – vicarious, in this case, where he could not. I am also thinking about body issues these days. Partly because in the midst of a geographically disperse year – one of the constants is that fact that I have taken up running. Am still a beginner and seek out non-hilly routes :-) but it is taking on the colour, to quote the words of an article in America on running and communion of “a certain foolish slavery to routine” (Janowiak 2003), through which, nonetheless, something happens. And I found myself thinking and asking the question about if we couldn’t think about a type of ‘consolation’ of’ in the body, and therefore the possibility of learning discernment  in and through that bodily consolation.

But it lead me to think about music, and its effect on the body and running. Over three days conscious observation, 2 out of 3 people running in the Englischer Garten in Munich wear earphones for devices to listen to music as they run (one supposes, unless they’re hearing the morning news). What music are they listening to? Why do we listen to the music we listen to at any given moment? Why do we choose the music we choose? Not what music do we like, but rather from the music we have in our ipod, why pick one song/ genre/ group in one moment and another in another? I guess that question can always be asked  – what moves our choices? But right now I am thinking in terms of how it affects our bodies. I know as I start out in the morning, I make a choice of music, and it usually has to do with how I’m feeling, inside and out. When I started running, I always picked heavy-ish rhythm’d rock or at least upbeat music, as it lent strength while I  struggled to breath or keep going…ok then – even to start :-).  But now it depends… if I’m in need of conscious prayer, I sometimes go to music in which the words help, or are intentional prayers, but more often than not I think I simply listen to my body, and sense what ‘fits’, what is needed, what could be life-giving, or refreshing, or stimulating… what fits with how I am bodily, or body, mind, soul, spirit all together.

Reading about the ‘birth’ of the concert hall as a ‘modern’ phenomenon recently, in order to favour listening to music, the same question emerges, in relation to styles of music. At a concert hall, one sits still to listen, supposedly, with all stillness – no moving of seats, and one should really try not to cough. Perhaps the best illustration of this to be found is John Cage’s groundbreaking 4,33, a piece in three movements for any number of instruments, in which none of them play a single note. The aim (among others) is not to show the role of silence in music, as much as to draw people’s attention to the atmosphere and surrounding sounds that make up the musical experience. I find the stillness and lack of movement provoked in this performance at the Barbican Hall in london fascinating. The tension and attention provoked is astounding.

(Patience to listen through the silence to experience this concert is well worthwhile):

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Compare with chicago’s flash dance for Opra Winfrey.

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I know it’s controlled and therefore slightly contrived but from immobile to dance, the point is made. So back to my initial questions… why do we choose in given moments different types of music? How does it make our bodies feel? And could not the rest of us learn/discern something through that?