As an adult, I have read various essays on the Psychologies of Laughter, Behaviour, Textile, Clothing, make-up, and Music.
Nowadays, I use my skills to analyse people, textile, movement, and music.
Whenever I find the time, I very much enjoy writing essays.
Forever intrigued by the Power of Music, I am constantly inspired by my encounters with various composers, and the emotional impacts of their scores onto the psyche.
What is more, I am determined to explore the links between visual and musical parts of the mind, conscious and unconscious.
I often wonder which aspects of a composer's life drive him to write a character's behaviour in one way, or another.
• I love Verdi's interpretation of the Witches' power and versatile attitudes towards life's twists and turns, in Mac Beth.
I love his graphic talent in painting fatal decrees, horror, humour, and femininity in its various forms.
The musical personalitites depicted in the Witches parts are vivid, and one can easily picture the creatures flying, laughing, seducing, hating, scheming, running away...
Their fears, frustrations and fury are palpable in the "Salantanarono" chorus, via internal jumps, string quivers, trills, and more...
Verdi pays attention to great detail, including their weaknesses and pathology.
They are also vulnerable women, who gained power through fighting their own emotions, hence being somewhat self-destructive.
They also constantly defy the gods , and therefore always have to watch their backs, be on their guard, and on the edge. the "Fuggiam" repetitions, in that same chorus, betray their urgent need to escape, with a very strong, undiscussable stress on the last syllable of the word. Agitated strings also accompany their escape calls.
• Mozart is another great painter, who uses notes in Idomeneo (See Video) for instance to describe the winds, sea, and emotional turbulences, in the "Pieta" mens chorus, wherein priests are threatened with Death, by adverse physical and psychological elements.
He does something quite similar in the very expressive Overture.
• The mind in his complex structure, surely associates messages from the musical realms with those of the visual.Memories of something seen or heard, are often recalled by a smell or the other...
Therefore it should possible to analyse Music using visual structures, such as Dance, or the Baton of a Conductor...
It has also been an obsession of mine, for quite some time, that Melodic structures could be likened to Fabric textures.
Silk, coarse threads, vivid colours, thick, dark velvet, and passages or phrases from Operas.
• The personalities as painted by writers like Mozart, in some of his chorus, together with the correlations between the drawn characters, could yield some powerful solution to social problems, as well as to some mental health problems... anyone who has heard the "Qui Tollis", from his Mass in C, or "O Voto Tremendo", I am sure should be inspired by the way Basses show humility, to take only one example, and support the women in their plea... An instance on how characters can be used in the context of a therapy, and roleplays could take place, on a conscious or subconscious basis.
A method can be developed from this, through experiments with subjects of various ages and backgrounds.
Music Therapy, as I understand it, does not go that far. It does not study structures and musical characters to that depth, as yet...
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• As I grow in acquaintance with various orchestral instruments, I ponder upon the evolutions and changes which occurred on the way to those structured bodies.
How did each one of them begin, in the History of Mankind, and which parameters shaped their voice(s)?
Furthermore, how does the resulting sound affect the human mind, and how much historical and emotional luggage is leftover within those sounds today?
If one looks at Linguistics, study of languages, one learns that most words used in modern society contain subconscious messages dating back to hundreds of years ago.
• I also love to notice Humour in social portrayals, within an Opera chorus or another... At a time for instance when women were clearly ranked underneath men, in society, Mozart paints females proving to be much more courageous than the males, in the Magic Flute. Although they also revere the Queen of the Night, they have a much more resilient/ assertive attitude when faced with her.. Cf "Was ist das?", when the Konigin approaches; and also the end of her first aria, when the men are left frightened, in a somewhat caricatural fashion...
The Queen of course is a Freudian essay on her own, "Dented Vagina" complexes ahoy.... She does turn out to be a vilain, of course, which is another debate altogether; but her part is given so much beauty, elegance, and majesty, that one wonders which aspects of the composers life at the time may have triggered those inclinations...
According to the Hollywood version of it, one inspiration might have been his mother-in-law, but I don't find this "explanation" on its own quite satisfactory enough...
Strong male, and female characters also emerge in Beethoven's Fidelio. Although the obvious female one is Leonora, the courageous Bloke-wanabee/ Didnt-have-Much-Of-A-Choice-Anyway cross dresser; the power games between various male characters are also rather fascinating, and at times caricatural...
Pizarro's aria "Ha! welch ein Augenblick" is accompanied by a chorus of timid/ "wallpaper-flower" men, whom one can almost picture as shying away from his wrath and arrogance (before progressively joining in to support his mood)... Modern versions of this situation could do well, I believe, in pantomimes...
Those reversal-of-power roles, as written by those geniuses, are to me, really what makes Life worth living...
Harmless, relatable, Vaudeville-type of humour, which they masterfully manage to transcribe into Music; for a wider scope of interpretations from listeners, over many centuries and continents...
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Excerpts from 2011 essay:
• Stimuli: Human Voices/ Instruments imitating a specific sound, such as the hurried steps of a horse. (Scores as appendices available on request) A typical example, according to my knowledge of opera is one of Verdi’s chorus pieces, in Mc Beth. Depicting the horsemen running to kill Banquo, the music and (male) voices paint in turn: Whispered and shouted Threats, curses, murmured evil plans, and self-contentment. It is by all accounts a masterpiece. But the most amazing, in my view, is the composition techniques Mr Verdi used to simulate the sound of approaching horse hooves: crescendos on fast strings, winds, and drums; concluding into a chorus of men chanting staccato notes, of the same melody. This is followed by vocal sotto voce, as they tiptoe to catch Banquo, accompanied by flutes, on staccato…. The action goes on with alternations of effects, such as these. Such powerful imagery is just a sample of what the mind of a composer, together with orchestral instruments, can produce, for the satisfaction and conscious escapism of the listener.
This, in my view, is a great motivation for discussion between therapist and patient, which could be extended into a creative process. The best way, however, to enjoy the action as depicted is to sing it, and to learn the part. Becoming a performer means one has to embody every accent, every diminuendo, and every expression as painted by the voice. Some will be written in the score, others instructed by the conductor.
• Stimuli: Bass strings piccato. They vibrate the same way in the hearing system, as a heart beat. Therefore the human brain, physiologically and psychologically, will inevitably associate the two. This will mostly happen on a subconscious level, hence the so-called subliminal effects of music, on the mind of the listener. (Of course, this will be demonstrated by audition tests with such stimuli from natural sources...)
• Stimuli: Tremolos (shivers/ trills) in violin parts often paint sharp or delicate emotions… (See: sounds of the Sea, wind rustling through branches, trembling of the body…). Reaction: See the reflexes of a dog or cat, alerted by “alarming” noises in a nearby tree or garden… The animal gets ready for action, self-defence, or attack. To transpose this onto the human mind frame, whenever at a live concert, let every classical music lover, as an exercise, observe ones involuntary inner thoughts, or bodily tensions, whilst listening to an orchestra playing a phrase of the sort (Examples taken from Verdi’s “La Traviata”- appendices available on request). Most composers will often use this effect with the intent of depicting an atmosphere, or a sensitive scene, and not with the sole purpose of decoration in mind.
What I will call next the “Anticipation factor” represents the psychological effect produced by a good composition, onto the listener and/or performer. Like a captivating story, like a giant puzzle, a well-written piece has the potential to stimulate the creative mind, as well as the IQ, by exciting the mind, and stimulating conscious and subconscious expectations within young and old.
• Anticipation factor: the excitement provided by the expectation of a climatic moment, of a surging emotion or another, of a resting place…(Eg: Fidelio’s Overture, by Beethoven- characterises various jumps and phallic, decisive movements, often accompanied by threatening accents; only to rest again, as in a valley, with strings and winds playing melancholic and compassionate chords. This rest is of course followed by more sudden, and more semi- predictable action.)
• Anticipation factor can benefit cognitive intelligence (logical suites/ “problems”, as represented by musical sentences…. The equivalent of logic problems, with numbers, or geometric figures, only in a much more creative way….)
• Anticipation factor can re-structure emotional paths, by aligning “solutions” to the listener’s emotional “puzzles”, hence defining a route for his/hers subconscious thinking pattern, or subconscious questions.
One of Hanslick theories, according to my understanding, is that Music cannot convey definite emotions, on its own, but needs words, in order to be complete…. The fact is, Music can be effective without words, and most of the great operas’ libretti have been written in a foreign language.
Passages from various oratorios can also demonstrate how wrong a statement this could be: if we use the same words, associated with various interpretations, we can observe many discernable differences.
The phrase “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”), for instance: let us compare them in the context of the Requiems by Cherubini, Mozart, and Verdi… Whilst Verdi’s is a volcanic thunder of voices, percussions and strings, Cherubini’s is a line-up on voices crescending from sotto voce, and trembling at the thought (whilst the strings spiral and torment them) of the impending punishment day in question. Mozart’s “Dies Irae” is a forte, sustained by strong accents on winds, strings, percussions, in the first instance; then it becomes a women-only frightened response to the men’s announcements, and is then echoed by extra-fast, shy, shimmering high strings, all piano. (Appendices as annotated cores available on request)
A small survey led by me (rather left to the last minute, I am afraid…) shows that most performers will identify emotionally to various pieces, in very different ways.
I asked singers, musicians, and musicologists around me which music evocated most the following, according to their own experience: Sadness, Loss, Joy, Excitement, and Fear. (Results not included references on request…)
Excerpt from 2010 essay:
Reiterations and Propaganda:
• The Power of message re-iteration within a movement (eg Oratorio) is magnified when words are associated with music. The leitmotiv is no longer just the verb, but also musical phrases. The word entities are ascertained, punctuated, and therefore identified with melodic structures…
A typical example, in my view, is the Credo, from Haydn’s Nelson Mass: the first syllable of “Credo” (“I believe”) is reinforced by an extra-assertive “thump” of drums, winds, etc… The latter musical motif is then repeated ad aeternam, throughout the movement, reminding the listener of the associated short word it came with in the first place. That minuscule affirmation is thus hammered throughout the joyful, declamatory SATB chorus.
Another example is the echoing, bouncy, lively “Dixit Dominus” first movement by Handel; wherein the words “Dixit Dominus”, “Scabellum”, “Inimicos”, with all the implications they carry, are driven into the listener’s mind, by way of repetition, and by way of changing and varying the melodies around them. The composer uses in this case, several cognitive psychological techniques: not content with repeating, he associates the words with various contexts, and stimuli, and attractive, strong harmonic arrangements. In the listener’s mind, therefore, are not left just the memory of the statements from the scripture, but the memory of the same scripture associated with several visual memories, several olfactory memories, from childhood, adolescence, etc… A scripture he/she will associate with various thoughts and meanings in his/ her own life, according to whatever the associated music patterns are in turn linked with, in his/her own experience.
Kant’s theory, as above, also comes to mind, once again.
Why then, could this not be directed in ways of therapy?
• An extension of the above principle is that of the “Joy reiteration”, as I like to call it.
It is in my opinion, depicted in the “Nisi Dominus” movement of Monteverdi’s Vespers. (Albeit, depending on the recording: not too fast nor too slow a Tempo...) The hope and affirmation as sung by the 2 soprano parts, on the Cs (“Ni”, “Do”, “Mi”) climbing up to Ds, then to high Fs; are repeated throughout, and also on other words. The stubborn geyser-like intervals jump up according to regular patterns, defying almost any logic, or any expectation of a change in melody. The whole SATB (8-voice) chorus follows more or less the same phrase, in cannon, multiplying by 4(at least) the effect, as one voice would fill in a gap left by another, with the same statements. (Appendices as noted scores are available, on request). Some drilling effect as such, surely, could be used to emphasize positive thinking, and resilience over adversity?...
Please note that the orchestral part on “Nisi Dominus” is virtually empty, hence not at all supporting the voices, which in turn represent every walk of life, in their varied textures. This could further support the principle that one should reach for inner strength, and inner inspiration, whenever an expected lead is lacking.
Singing practice of this movement often develops a sense of autonomy, much like sailing or windsurfing; and since one has to remind oneself consciously to jump back to that same note, produce the same accents and vowels on the notes as described, ones mind might picture a circular dance motion, and feel rejoicing, as well as empowerment.
"Until I pass away, I shall show children, adults, men and women alike: how Destiny can be touched by Powers which Mankind regularly chooses to ignore, pushing aside Her very own Glory."
Opera Staging Storyboard samples
Excerpt from 2011 essay:
Music and Society: Many aspects of how music is enjoyed, are of course linked to the enjoyment (or at least awareness) of other people. I would like to approach the subject by looking into a few aspects of general interest.
• Music and social context: Our experience of music can influence, and be influenced by social groups, places, and purposes. For example, at funerals, mustn’t one be sad, whichever piece of music we listen to? And at weddings, we are bound to rejoice, and this will influence our understanding of the notes we hear. The social context is a modern equivalent to the Greek forum, where all judgements were made on members of society. Anywhere a crowd is gathered, ones interpretation of music or events will be shaped by others, wit the exception perhaps of an opera/ classical concert… Things are different at a rock concert, however, where the crowd’s movements, expressions, cheering, as well as the overall message of freedom and rebellion specifically surrounding the genre, do tend to draw one into the euphoria.
• Spirituality and Music: One is influenced by the other, and vice-versa. Writers have given us masses, and for centuries have fed our religious imaginations, as well as provided a platform for our worship. On the other hand, many composers of sacred work have dug into their faith to produce Kyries of awe-inspiring grandeur, which in turn painted God’s qualities within choruses, or string quintets. Often a matter of social context again, religious music is played in most (if not all) temples, churches and mosques across the Globe. In Western churches at least, it often helps to convey emotions, of tenderness, compassion, melancholy, etc… Prayer, or at least its psychological structure (as applicable in this essay) can help to extend the imagination, concentrate, build faith (Placebo effect), confidence, and will power. The scriptures one would base oneself upon would justify those personal attitudes, from one faith to the other. All the latter components are beneficial to build not only ones personality, but also good musical structures.
• The Modern society we live in is cold, fast, in-a-hurry; and its people have no voice, unless they are lucky enough to be in the media industry.
The latter body is a very parsimonious one, and its selecting processes are often dubious.
The family unit no longer has time or no longer bothers to communicate.
Therefore, most members of these occidental groups have learnt to shut down their emotions, their eyes, and also their ears.
Body language signals are often ignored, and/or rejected, as part of our daily lives. This is partly because of information overload, partly because of the rigidities of standards, when it comes to expressivity.
Other signs of a decline are the rise of 21st Century electronic dance music, with poor melodies, under-researched harmonic structures, and over-aggressive messages. Those heart-beat-like drum sequences are often associated with violent, scatted, as well as repetitive, and self-contradicting rhythms. This translates into a very self-destructive pattern or message, which can be likened of that of schizophrenia.
Social divisions are also great, within the family, and between races.
Should the use of great classical choruses, such as Mozart’s “Qui Tollis” (Mass in C), accompanied by the study of them, not represent a way out of restrictive and punishing social behaviours? Just as it might be therapeutic for someone to look into a great garden painted on canvas, in order to escape there mentally, is it not a wonderful tool to be able to project oneself onto a place where instrumental or singing parts are supportive of each-other?
Just as marvellously rewarding it is for someone with depression, to listen to a brilliantly- written piece of poetry, is it not the same principle, should that patient learn the structure, and then actually made the assertion of performing those musical parts?
For a start, learning various characters in singing can be compared to learning an actor’s lines.
One can project oneself thoroughly, from insecure male to invincible warrior, for example, or from betrayed housewife to glorious seductive vixen. Those are indeed the characters one sometimes has to learn to portray with the voice, or even with body language…
Let us take then the example of the “Qui Tollis” movement, which is a sacred piece, wherein a whole population of believers/ chorus are praying, pleading to God. For this purpose, the sopranos head off in long chords, lamenting in a descending scale. The basses and tenors follow the sopranos’ parts, without ever overtaking them. They also have the tact to carry them, or to prepare the ground for them, in compassion (anticipating the Sops parts, then leaving the space to them again, once again diving down, or sticking to a less eloquent part…)
Mainly, they act as supporting actors, or perhaps like stunt artists, in charge of doubling them, in dangerous scenes…
From time to time, tenors will take the lead, and seem to be letting the sopranos renew their energy.
In my eyes, it is a remarkable landscape of human heads and hands, reaching out, in beautiful harmony, for their Creator, in a united and organized legal pleading.
The piece in itself is moving and pleasant to the ears, but unless one were to analyse it/ discuss it, together with clients/ patients; unless one were to assign role plays, according to present cases, then its therapeutic potential would fail to be fully explored…
The benefits would not just be for psychological problems, but also social ones. Just as some people take on couples therapy, why this could be a way of oiling communication between families, and indeed neighbourhoods.
There is, of course, much to be written about this piece, and others, but that could be the subject of another paper.
Excerpt from 2011 essay:
I would like to quote Angela Esterhammer: “Language as Action in the world”. Every time we speak, we create a wave, and launch a ship of some sort. To refer to Kathryn Whitney’s statement, whenever we play music, we pursue a goal, some venture or another, and what is more, others follow.
It is important to me that music should be widely appreciated, but also internationally used for the benefits of Mankind.
Perhaps Mozart and fellow composers were, in their own ways, stylish prophets: they understood, and announced, in their own language, reasons for Man’s existence, and saw insights into the Human mind. Just as religious prophets like Jesus-Christ or David, used images/ parables, in order to illustrate matters of the mind in simple, direct ways; I believe Mozart or Handel used notes and arrangements, to speak directly to the mind of generations to come.
All could be more united, in Music; and a few more studies would further the success of Music Therapy, all over the world.
I am looking forward to the day when I can see developments being made, and empirical studies everywhere causing people of all nations to shout in choral unison:
“Dank! Dank!”, to their God, and/or to their favourite musician, ad aeternam--
Just like Herr Mozart had written it, centuries ago, in the great story of the Magic Flute.
(Mr Mozart did know a thing or two about flutes, as History went on to show..)
• Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the following Masters: Mozart, Verdi, Haydn, Handel, and the other great composers who are not named here; for their sublime influence onto my life. I would like to thank the people I have studied music with, namely: my singing teacher Valerie Saint Martin; the various conductors and chorus masters I have sung under; the Chelsea Opera Group, who gave me the passion of the orchestra and the inspiration of the great maestri; Mr Paul and Stephen Rhys, also great teachers and conductors.
I would also like to thank all the good people of Facebook Land, who kindly agreed to take part in my survey. My kindest regards to all 3 of them.
Photo by Maani Vagdama
My ambition is to find methods to use musical messages within individual instrumental scores, in order to help with various emotional health issues.
According to my research, those methods I have in mind have not been used just yet...
Should you wish any more specifications, please do make contact.
I do enjoy discussing the subject with like-minded individuals.
I am currently developing a workshop project in collaboration with a French theatre company (at this stage, business logistics...).
Should you wish to know more, please let me know.
More to follow...
“Di destarlo per tempo il re m’impose”
Let us have a brief look at Banquo’s various anti-philosophical statements, via the composer’s translation of Shakespeare’s verse.
His mood is troubled and somber: the main topical subjects are death and loss.
Verdi depicts the protagonist as a tired, heavily-laden man, weighed down by emotional burdens. His musical role is structured so to reflect his existential despair and distress: plain statements of doom, tragic assessments of a fatalistic reality..
He has lost such reflexes as natural responses to his very own environment, creative resilience, as well as any will to communicate with his fellow human beings.
Although there is a lot of wisdom in each of his inputs; by the end of each statement, he loses all breath and pattern of articulation.
The man Banquo is stripped bare, forced to carry this emotional burden, and apparently on his own: the orchestra meanwhile just witnesses and echoes his laments. Apart from a few rising points where the latter punctuates the singer’s walk, musical instruments are basically a mirror to his dark gloomy grey self.
The shadowy walk defies the expectations traditionally associated with this bass vocal part.
The great empathy in the vocal character has turned into loneliness: the listener constantly expects him to rise (in pitch, at least), or to change his pace.
The pattern however remains monotonous, with accented consonants: there is no visible horizon or light at the end of this musical tunnel whatsoever.
Following a few strenuous, dragging first bars, the character dramatically accents every syllable on “lamentose (voci)": the image created here being of a person desperately trying to catch their breath, and more openly expressing their exhaustion. It is of a man, for a few seconds, letting go of social obligations, allowing himself to be somewhat “weaker” than expected. In this assumed weakness, he is yet also showing greater empathy, a carrier or vector of universal emotional responses to death in the family.
He goes on from thence, carrying his heavy carcass: forgetting how to ask for help, forgetting his own identity or creativity, losing his resilience and will to survive.
Innate survival instincts for human beings and animals to automatically generate movement and existential opportunities, here seem somewhat lost…
This, as above, is how Verdi is choosing to depict the main themes in this paragraph’s libretto: by showing us a strong male figure carrying the pain of loss, to the point of losing his own vital strength.
Another touch of Verdi’s genius is the use of musical composition as a typography structure for the original text.
To give a concrete example: after “O, qual orrenda notte!”, the emotional weight of this first sentence hangs in the air. The listener awaits more: a denouement, some explanation, a solution or a development of some kind…
The next note, although higher, introduces yet a disappointing repetition of the previous situation. Together with the shaping of the following verses (twisted, disappointing versions of the same statements), the overall effect works as a poignant choreography for Shakespeare’s words.
In a poem by Aimé Césaire, for instance, this would translate on the page as specific placements for words and paragraphs. They would be judicially shifted around, according to their degree of importance.
This is a way to personify literary items, by actually drawing them onto paper.
A very good composition can have the same effect. Rests, contrasting pitches, musical paragraphs, can add to a listener’s mind the same sense of wonder and suspense as a reader’s mind, when anticipating the next line on a page.
Masculinity is given the hero treatment, in this small paragraph: warts and all, female sensitivity and all. Far from being written by Shakespeare, it is actually penned by Verdi.
Masculinity here is painted with a multi-dimensional musical ink, as a non-conventional concept. This understanding goes way beyond social or political expectations, beyond borders and linguistic traditions.
Music psychology essay excerpt, by Sandrine Anterrion. Verdi Mac Beth. Copyright 2016.
The above observations can be developed into music therapy projects, wherein male figures would typically learn to let go, and better express their emotions...