Sep 19, 2017
Back in July Katherine Ellen Foley, a health and science reporter for Quartz wrote a wonderful article detailing the research and thoughts of Matthew Sachs, a grad student at the University of Southern California. Her article, with the headline: The chills we get from listening to music are a biological reaction to surprise definitely caught my attention.
I could not have said it better. I, too, believe that the effective surprises we experience while listening to music trigger those goosebump moments. And while the article – well worth the read – deals mostly with this phenomenon as it may be applied to popular songs, here at The Discovery Orchestra we know that classical composers intentionally create these spine-tingling events using a myriad of compositional techniques.
They might, for instance, re-harmonize a melody they have already presented. In fact, changing just one chord in a harmonic progression has ‘destroyed’ this listener on countless occasions.
Then, there is the use of dynamics combined with sudden changes of range – like the passage described in Katherine Ellen Foley’s article. Do take the time to listen to Rachael Price and Lake Street Dive imbedded in the article!
Classical composers will frequently find a way to build one especially emotionally overwhelming passage into a five or ten minute movement. Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff referred to this moment as ‘The Point’ – something I’ve referenced before in this blog.
Frequently – certainly not always – this earth-shattering music is very close to the end of a movement. . .one final ‘push you over the edge’ musical expression.
If you have not had one of these experiences today, take ten minutes now to listen to and watch the late Klaus Tennstedt lead the London Philharmonic in Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of his opera Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Go ahead, turn up the volume and go full screen! If you haven’t had enough goosebumps before then, the music from about 7:42 to the end should take you over the top!