music to make you laugh, cry and sleep


I recently made a strange connection. Many years ago I was struck by reading that the early medieval Celtic nobility (Welsh I believe) judged their bards by their ability to make the company laugh, cry and finally sleep with their music. This seems feasible and would seem to fit in with the social conditions of the era. The threefold requirement is still with us – we all like our music to agitate us, to let us feel some emotion and to soothe us in times of trouble.

Then I read recently in a book about Indian music that Al-Farabi, the 10th Century Afghan (origin disputed) scholar says exactly the same thing about the music of his time! Coincidence, scholarly confusion? Who heard about what from whom? Or did the two come about along the same lines as multiregional evolution? Were people of the time much more mobile than we imagine and the transmission of cultural memes  far more dynamic and widespread than perhaps we realise?

Who knows? – but if anyone does know, please enlighten me.


2 Responses to “music to make you laugh, cry and sleep”

  1. kraig grady Says:

    James Hillman book Emotion shows how little they emotions are understood. he points out many different theories as to what they are, many are not compatible with the others.
    One wonders why we are so hell bent on getting rid of something we don’t even know what it is [Sade]
    Their is a puritanical tread [now often in the postcolonial robes of “buddhism”] in western society that is hell bent on suppressing them as if they are something bad because of their ‘uncontrollability”. It is hard to say if the reason for this ‘uncontrollability’ might be their lack of development in the same way we witness in a weightlifter who attempts more than he is used to. In time he works it up.
    There is a train of aesthetic thought that says music can not express emotions, but if we follow this , we can say this about all the arts. In the end we can only come to the conclusions that emotions can not be expressed.
    This is an absurdity. I will take a even more radical view and state that not only can music [ i am not saying it has to] house emotions or create situations in which these emotions emerge, but beyond that there are emotions that appear to exist only because of music, and other forms of art too. It creates invents new ones. What you describe in a piece of music here is exactly the type of situations that promotes an ‘inner commune’ that works together. It as Hillman points out later, will not happen in the world till it happens within ourselves.

    • James Wyness Says:

      I constantly get into trouble attempting to discuss anything to do with emotions and music, especially from folks in the ‘high art’ world, which includes regions of the sound art community. But in the ‘real world’, millions of people listen to songs and tunes (not wishing to trivialise) and yes, laugh (I take dancing to be part of this), cry and sleep (relax, dream upon, etc.). I think there are better and worse understandings of what the emotions are in relation to responses to music and the arts more generally. I don’t care what anybody tries to tell me, my first response to a work of music is usually emotional. Not to say that I go around weeping or laughing uncontrollably, at least not usually, but that’s how I understand my response, as an emotional one. And I agree that music can provoke emotional responses unlike anything else. Puritans and puritanical religions have always been afraid of emotions. I should know – I was brought up and educated by a generation of repressed tight-arsed Presbyterian Scots.

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