Music in the Wall St. Journal

Someone at the editorial office of the Wall Street Journal has been greenlighting some great music and science articles lately!  Before the Grammys, Michaeleen Doucleff’s article “Anatomy of a Tear Jerker” (2/11/12) discussed the work of scientists who witnessed chills and tears from audience members during a performance, and then measured a jump in their physiological reactions (heart rate, goose bumps, sweat) directly afterward.  The tension of the appogiatura ornament was also found to have the same effect on listeners, as well as dramatically changing dynamics, abrupt entrances of new voices, and expansion of octaves or frequencies. Adele’s ballad “Someone Like You” uses appogiaturas and octave changes, one reason the song has become infamous for inducing sobs.

Gary Marcus’ article “Guitar Tricks for a Middle-Aged Dog” (12/11/11) chronicles Gary’s experiences learning to play the guitar at age 38. What worked for him was “deliberate practice” – practicing something every day, being diligent about lessons, rotating his practice regiments so he didn’t get in a rut, and purposely focusing on what he perceived were his biggest weaknesses (in his case, rhythm). Words of wisdom we often use with kids, but forget to apply to ourselves.

“Cranking up Your Private Pep Rally” (11/9/11), by John Jurgensen talks about personal fight songs, the secret weapons of professionals in every field. The natural dopamine-like tendencies of certain pieces of music for certain people can prime our brains before big events, and help us hit and hold a ready state. Some people’s choices are obvious, like Gov, Chris Christie’s love of Bruce Springsteen, but the author also interviews a SWAT team commander who found that gospel helped him focus and offset the weight of his job. One of my favorite fight songs?  Shostakovich’s Festive Overture!

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