21 Days of Posts – Day 18 – Music Can Be Addictive? Yep

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This is day eighteen of twenty-one days of posts between January 10th and January 30th of 2021. Hello again to those who read previous days, and hello to those of you who may have stumbled across this post “out of order”. You should go back and read from Day 1, for a few reasons. It explains why I am doing this. It is the first one, and I may make reference to something in it in this post or a later one. It also has a list with each day’s post (once they are available) and you can jump to whatever topic you are interested in. Thanks for reading!

I’ve always felt that listening to certain passages of music was highly therapeutic. There are many piece of music that I would declare were helpful in either reinforcing or diminishing certain emotions and moods. Some music is so good, you want to listen to it over and over because it gives you actual physiological “chills”.

Some researchers at McGill University thought the same thing, and put their intellectual efforts toward proving this phenomenon. They found that listening to music we love stimulates the production of dopamine in our brain, the chemical most associated with pleasure. We experience pleasure from this release of dopamine not only while listening to our favorite excerpts of music, but also in the time before, anticipating the favored section of music.

This dopamine release can cause feelings of euphoria and even craving, much like an addiction. I can understand that. I have certain pieces of music that I love to listen to. They invariably have a peak moment that all the music preceding that moment had built toward.

One of the best examples of this is the Saturn movement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. The movement is almost ten minutes long, and is an ethereal, dissonant, slow, and ponderous procession until about five and a half minutes in when the brass instruments begin to call back and forth to each other. They build to an incredible climax, then the ponderous procession starts again, but only for about one and a half to two minutes. Those ninety to one-hundred and twenty seconds build again until the tension created by the processional nature of the music swells into a massive bass note provided by the organ and double basses which is overlaid with dreamy, flowing flourishes from the violins and wind instruments.

On my favorite recording of The Planets, which is not considered one of the “best” recordings, the Montreal Symphony under Charles Dutoit does an incredible job and if you’re listening at “natural” sound levels, the throbbing power of that bass note will rattle your listening room to pieces and potentially destroy lesser audio reproduction equipment. The brass section will peel the paint off your walls in other sections. There are so many passages that stir the production of dopamine in my brain as I anticipate and experience them. I think I have mentioned before that if you haven’t given The Planets a listen, you should find that friend who has a great sound system and have them play it for you, to at least hear it one time. I think once you do, you’ll want to hear it again. And again. And maybe another time.

So, yes, I am right there with these researchers when they subtly say that listening to music which brings us pleasure can be somewhat addictive. I love getting the chills from hearing the brass roar through the Mars movement of The Planets. And as they approach the bombastic, highly dissonant “pre-climax” of that movement, my anticipation grows, the hairs stand up on my arms and I prepare to feel…good. And when they approach the true end of the movement and the brass section is screaming with an edginess that evokes images of war, chaos, destruction, and power, my chills go into overdrive. The entire last half of the movement is loud, ever building, and strident. It makes me shiver the whole time. Then it is over. Then I want to hear it again.

Is it an addiction? Sure. I agree with that assessment. I especially agree with it for a not so good reason. An addict eventually wants to find that next great high. Whatever they are using begins to have a diminishing return. Music will also cause this. While I might want to play The Planets again and again, eventually, I will move on to something even more…stimulating. Just listening to The Planets will eventually not be enough and I usually turn to even more modern music, along the lines of Torke, Glass, or Gorecki.

Is music a “bad” addiction? Probably not, depending upon the music, but we should be careful to guard against a dependency on it. The only thing we should depend on is God. We should place no other thing between us and Him, causing it to become an idol. As we are told in Jonah –

Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them

Jonah 2:8

God should always be first and foremost in our minds.

Thank you, God for inspiring men and women to write incredible music that brings pleasure to those who listen to it. We are blessed by music in ways we don’t even understand completely.

Featured Image: Photo by Jonathan on Unsplash

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