Daily Bow: How Musicians Communicate Emotion


The Musical Brain: Timing and How Musicians Communicate Emotion

“If I set it up right,” Mr. (Yo Yo) Ma said in an interview, “that is when the sun comes out.”

Last April, a wonderful article appeared in the New York Times about how music affects the neurons in our brains. Interviewed and quoted for that article were a number of musicians and scientists–all experts in their respective fields. They included Yo Yo Ma , Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, author of  the best seller, This Is Your Brain on Music (Dutton, 2006), Bobby McFerrin, and Edward W. Large, a music scientist at Florida Atlantic University. In her article, author Pam Belluck writes  about the latest scientific research that tries to understand what makes music expressive and:

…what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another. The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool.

Yo-Yo-Ma and The Element of Surprise:

Say the cellist Yo-Yo Ma is playing a 12-minute sonata featuring a four-note melody that recurs several times. On the final repetition, the melody expands, to six notes.

“If I set it up right,” Mr. Ma said in an interview, “that is when the sun comes out. It’s like you’ve been under a cloud, and then you are looking once again at the vista and then the light is shining on the whole valley.”

But that happens, he said, only if he is restrained enough to save some exuberance and emphasis for that moment, so that by the time listeners see that musical sun they have not already “been to a disco and its light show” and been “blinded by cars driving at night with the headlights in your eyes.”

More about Daniel J. Levitin, author of This is your Brain on Music

Daniel J. Levitin, director of the laboratory for music perception, cognition and expertise at McGill University in Montreal, began puzzling over musical expression in 2002, after hearing a live performance of one of his favorite pieces, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27.

“It just left me flat,” Dr. Levitin, who wrote the best seller “This Is Your Brain on Music” (Dutton, 2006), recalled in a video describing the project. “I thought, well, how can that be? It’s got this beautiful set of notes. The composer wrote this beautiful piece. What is the pianist doing to mess this up?”

Check out the Full Story and Watch the Videos Below featuring Dr. Levitin!

How Musicians Communicate Emotion, Part 1

How Musicians Communicate Emotion, Part 2

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