Thursday, 5 November 2015

Sad music is good for us

I've just had one of those jaw-dropping "of course" moments.
"Sad Music," one of the "The Why Factor" little 15-minute BBC Radio 4 programmes, explains a little of how people create sad musical structures, and demonstrates by analysing the Top 50 in the USA since 1965 that it seems to be getting more popular (songs in minor vs major keys.)

It then asks "Why?" Don't we want to be cheered up?

A neuro something-or-other-very-clever explained that when we are sad, if we are sad enough, we release a hormone into the blood stream that is the same as the hormone released by breast-feeding women. Prolactose, I think it was called.

It comforts us. It doesn't cheer us up, it simply works as a comfort blanket.

So sad music isn't usually depressing, it is comforting, even if it makes us cry. We need it sometimes.

He also said that when we are truly sad (not depressed) we are at our most realistic in our view of the world, and of ourselves.

More good, sad music at funerals, please. Barber's Adagio is going to be a lot more use in grieving than, with respect, Neil Diamond or Status Quo. Those may have been "his favourites," but that won't help the mourners. But James Taylor's "Riding on a Railroad." Or "Slip Sliding Away" by Paul Simon, or "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Pärt or...(huge list.)

Or Threnody, of course, for live a capella voices. 

Here's the programme:

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