Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music Has Charms To Soothe A Savage ...



“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast” is a popular but incorrect quote of a line from a 1697 play “The Mourning Bride” by William Cosgrove. The correct quote is “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” Whether or not music can soothe a savage breast, until this time its effect on a beast has been open to question. However, a recent study indicates that in very special cases, music can be written that can affect the behavior of certain animals, specifically the cotton-top tamarin of Central and South American rain forests.
Wisconsin psychologist Charles Snowden has recorded a catalog of calls from these primates. Now David Tele of the National Symphony Orchestra has composed music utilizing the rising and falling pitches, sound duration, etc. of two types of the monkeys’ calls – one “alarm” call (sort of a heavy-metal style), and a second “safe and calm” (ballad) style. Then he speeded up his music eightfold to match the frequency and tempo of the monkey vocalizations.
When the human style music was played for the monkeys, there was no reaction, but when the up-tempo music was played, they displayed signs of agitation in response to the heavy-metal style, and appeared to calm down when exposed to the ballad style.
It appears that these are the first controlled studies that show a response to music by an animal. The findings indicate that the human proclivity for music has a long evolutionary history.
There is no doubt that music can stimulate a strong reaction in humans (See my blog of September 15th). For example, in my own case the sound of country-western music (an oxymoron if there ever was one) causes an extreme allergy. My feet start moving toward the nearest exit, or if none is available I immediately start looking for a pillow or something with which to cover my ears. But I really do enjoy a good jazz concert.
As in my preferences for most contemporary entertainment, I seem to be outnumbered. But what do all those other folks know? Most of them can’t tell a breast from a beast.


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