“I am convinced that there are universal currents of Divine Thought vibrating the ether everywhere and that any who can feel these vibrations is inspired by it.”
– Richard Wagner
The Bard of Bayuth may have been on to something. Last post I noted the Duke University study that indicated that music may be an outgrowth of our physical makeup — a natural rather than a cultural construction. As Dale Purves, one of the researchers explains:
“Any perceptual quality you have is there for some biological reason. They evolved because they provide useful information to us. So if you take a microphone out in nature and ask what the tonal sounds are in our environmental niche that we would have evolved to appreciate, the tonal sounds you record are nearly all animal vocalizations. And the ones that count the most are the vocalizations of other humans.”
Gives Sigfried’s Idyll an interesting subtext, doesn’t it?
Another recent study at the University of Toronto demonstrated the importance of cues to evoke memories. Smells, textures — and especially music — can stimulate the hippocampus and bring back associated memories. According to the University of Toronto study researcher Melanie Cohn,
This study is important because it resolves a current debate on the role of the hippocampus in retrieving memories. Some have argued it is the strength of the memory that matters most in retrieval. We have shown it is actually context that activates the hippocampus.
That’s the concept behind the oldies format. And, I think part of the reason people return to traditional carols and songs in December.
Putting the two studies together, one could reach this conclusion. We have a deep emotional reaction to a performance of a symphony because the music resonates with us on a physical level. And when we play a recording of that work later on, we can relive that excitement again and again.
Now those are inspired vibrations.