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Nature, Music and the Body

by Victoria Parker

This paper will primarily focus on sonic environments and synchronous connections in relation to music and the effects on the body. I will briefly explain the importance of our bodies connecting with nature while under stress, making references to musical relationships.  I will be referencing Tia DeNora’s book  Music in Everyday Life with how music effects the body and our emotional response in sonic environments. What comes to mind for me when I think of sonic environments is nature, or water, or a large atmospheric dome of space and sound. This may be because I feel connected to nature and practice yoga. In Music in Everyday Life (2000), DeNora brings to light our own desires when making and listening to music and how our physiological response  may be understood to be “musically composed.” Chapter Four considers the reflexive relationship between music and embodiment. One question DeNora proposes in her book is “how does music come to have effects upon body composition?” She acknowledges that music not only effects the body, but how people feel emotionally.  

How music regulates the body

When we listen to music, there is an emotional response, we may feel happy or sad, or overwhelmed among . Other variables may come into play such as, where we are when we are listening to music and what our emotional state may be when listening to music. We might hear a song once let’s say at a wedding and feel joy, whereas, we may hear the same song but at a funeral and feel sadness. This has to do with the context in which we are listening to the music and not the music itself. One might say that listening to sounds in nature connect us more to our well being. When we feel connected to nature and aware of our surroundings, this is when we feel embodied security.

According to DeNora, embodied security is one’s awareness of their environment and the patterns and textures within that environment and the opportunities these afford. This allows for interpretations in which the body may be understood when listening to music, in addition to this is how musical entrainment helps organize bodily security. Another way to consider entrainment is a phenomenon in which two or more independent rhythmic processes synchronize with each other (Clayton, Sager & Will, 2004). DeNora (2000) states that entrainment is “the alignment or integration of bodily features with some recurrent features in the environment” (pp.77-78). Whereas “bodily awareness is a non cognitive, non-propositional creaturely orientation and expectancy towards the physical environment” (p.84). It can be described by a feeling when we hear trickling water or what happens to the body when we feel the warm sun on our face.  Similar to entrainment is reflexive music. It is our awareness to the elements around us of different mediums (Rosenbaum, 2005). Reflexive music allows the performer to find interactions between more than one form.  

Brian Eno, who is considered a pioneer of ambient music and continues to write and produce music has produced well-known artists such as, Coldplay and U2 and collaborated with David Bowie and Daniel Lanois, just to name a few. When he began writing music, he experimented with tape recorders and found great inspiration from Steve Reich’s tape orchestration,  It’s Gonna Rain. DeNora refers to a phenomenon of airport music, specifically Brian Eno’s (1978) album Music for Airports, which is ambient, slow, and, atmospheric and how the music effected the passengers.  When the Pittsburgh Airport played Music for Airports in the early 1980s, the reaction was that the music actually stressed passengers and made them anxious and upset (DeNora, 2000). DeNora states “in music that pattern is engendered through regularized relationships between tensions and resolutions, sounds and silences” (2000, p.85) In western music we hear a lot of tonal harmonies and resolutions with major and minor chords, which are most often pleasing to the western ear. When sound waves are vibrations or sound is” non-distinct”, the body does not latch onto the auditory device which can affect the bodily security and the properties of security. This, along with a stressful environment, such as an airport, may be a reason why passengers felt uneasy when listening to Music for Airports, due to the obscurity of the music. However, I recently played Music for Airports in a yoga class I taught. When the students practiced yoga to the music, it created a peaceful atmosphere. This demonstrates that when Music for Airports is listened to in a different context or atmosphere, it is perceived differently and it creates bodily security. The yoga studio, being a different environment than an airport, creates a different perception, that being, a calm atmosphere and invited feelings of peace and relaxation.

Music in the Womb into Everyday Life

When considering nature and environments and healing aspects that lie within, DeNora describes how an infant’s environment inside the womb is characterized by sonic regularity, by rhythm, heartbeat, and sleep, also known as homeostasis. In Sabet T’s (2016) study, 66 premature infants listened to Brahms’ lullaby, and, while listening, the infant’s oxygen levels went up, indicating that music stimulation benefits pre-term infants. DeNora points out that while in neonatal care, music is a safe and effective means associated with stability when monitoring in the intensive care unit.

music-in-the-womb
Music in the Womb

DeNora’s acute awareness of how we all connect differently to music and sonic environments lets us explore our interests to our authentic selves when considering musical process and everyday environments. Some ways we are able to bring this into the classroom as educators are; we can promote healthy lifestyle. We can encourage self-expression. We can connect more with nature and encourage students to as well. To be an open-minded teacher, it is important to consider, how we look at something, instead of, what we are looking at. Rather than having students think within a system, we can be open to their ideas and create positive healthy classroom environments. Examples of what this might look like are; dim lighting, calming colours on the walls, or a clean well-kept space instead of clutter in the classroom, just to name a few. Awareness to connecting with our sonic environments allows self expression, through self-expression, there is creativity.

References:

DeNora, T. (2000). Music in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

 

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