Music is a form of magic. Songs are spells we sing to summon emotions and transport listeners to rhapsodic realms. Ancient stories attest that the power of music can shape the world and the hearts of men. Orpheus could charm the trees and rocks to dance with his lyre, sirens could sing sailors to wreck their ship against rocks. The harp of Dagda, the Irish god, put the seasons in order; when Bragi, son of Odin, played his golden harp, trees would bud and flowers bloom; and the Egyptian god Osiris used music to civilize the world.
I have experienced magical musical moments throughout my life. I’m one of the people who experience frisson, full body chills, from certain music. Scientists think that some people have a much higher volume of fibers connecting their auditory cortex to the areas that process emotion, and that this connection can cause people to experience physical responses, like goosebumps, shivers, chills, and pupil dilation, from aesthetically induced emotions.
I also feel like I easily fall into trance-like states in the presence of rhythmic drum circles. One time I can recall falling into that altered consciousness was the first time I attended a capoeira roda, or dance circle. The capoeiristas created a sacred circle with their traditional instruments: the single-stringed berimbau, drums, and other percussion instruments. The sound of the berimbau twanged in my chest, over and over and over, creating an all-encompassing drone that pushed any thoughts out of my mind, and I just floated on the wave of music.
It is not only rhythmic drumming that can put me into that meditative state. I have a friend from college who plays the sitar, and sometimes I would go listen to him practice very long ragas. I am not that familiar with Indian music, so I had no idea where the music would go next. I would close my eyes and, again, would have the experience of my body filling with music and then floating away on the notes.
Listening to music triggers the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, our body’s intrinsic reward system. And that benefit doesn’t just come from listening to happy music. Various studies show that listening to sad music can help you regulate negative emotions. That sounds right to me. When I was a child, I used to blast my tape of Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor as loud as I could and just cry at the sound of the violins. (I was so emo! I also cried at the plight of the lowercase n on Sesame Street.)
It is probably no coincidence that my husband and daughter are both musicians. I have been blessed to live in a house full of instruments, singing, harmonizing, and music creation. I don’t know how to play any instruments, nor even how to sing that well (not that that stops me from singing). My experiences with music– the joy, the flood of emotions, the feeling of being transported by sound– have been a great joy in my life. I feel the magic of music, and music has created innumerable sacred moments in my life.