Music as Emotion

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” – Henry David Thoreau

Music has always been known to evoke emotion. I hardly think there was a time when humans thought otherwise. Music can evoke emotions of love, joy, sorrow, unease, rage, complete euphoria, and limitless others. So, how is it that we define the sentiments that we want to feel? Is this a conscious choice? Is it born within us or developed? I guess that is the whole nature vs nurture question.

I have never been one to listen to music that leaves me feeling undesired emotions. I like music that leaves me feeling better and more positive about myself and my surroundings than I started. I suppose, for this reason, that this is why I do not like listening to hard rock, metal, or rap. I guess I like to think myself as a purist. Give me a symphony that evokes pure beauty over electric guitar anyday. In a previous post, I did declare that I do like to listen to some pop music and top 40 and I am not now trying to deny that fact. I am just stating a new fact about myself.

I have been thinking about this concept of aesthetics and how we, as humans, choose what music we listen to for enjoyment. I find art pleasing for arts-sake and find no reason to justify it but is that how everyone else views their choices? I have a family member that enjoys listening to all of the “music” that I do not. Does that make his choices any less valid? I think this is a valid point to think on.

In graduate school, I took a class called “The Aesthetics of Music.” In this class, which really was one of my favorites, we debated a lot of subjects. We read a lot of critiques and portions of works by different 19th and 20th century philosophers, discussed the Mozart effect, talked about the music of other cultures, and so on. So, now I am out in the real world. Does my view of what makes a piece of music “beautiful” mean that it is what the world deems “beautiful?” What are my reasons and do I really need to have reasons?

We all have tastes and it will vary from generation to generation and culture to culture. I know that my view of beauty and art varies from my parents and varied considerably from my grandparents. Our tastes will even vary between people of the same set of education and focus. I have a friend from my undergraduate years that loves a piano concerto that I think is lovely but am really only lukewarm toward. I mentioned to a group of current undergraduate piano students at our local university about my love for 20th-century and more modern music. They looked at me as if I came from another planet.

How are we letting these differences influence our thinking? How are we letting them define us as individuals and us as a culture? How are we letting our unique artistic tastes divide us from each other?

I guess that is enough to think about for a Friday evening. Emotion, tastes, culture, beauty — it’s all a lot to swallow when grouped together. Well, just know that this topic or group of topics is far from off the table. Let’s just let it settle and see where we come up on the other side of the dawn.

What are your thoughts? Send me an email (, use the contact form, or leave me a comment and I will get back to you!

Peace and love (and good taste),
The Mad Pianist


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