Sunday, December 14, 2008

The experience of profundity in music

Reimer, Bennett. "The Experience of Profundity in Music." Journal of Aesthetic Education 29.4 (Winter 1995): 1-21.


By Megumi Okamoto


The most essential characteristic in music is that it offers an "alternative reality and an alternate way of being," as various claims have been made in order to elaborate this. The author introduces the term "profound" to describe such human experiences. This term was invented by Abraham Maslow, who discovered that experiences traditionally associated with religious/mystic experience often result from setting that is unrelated to religion, such as aesthetic moments which he labeled as peak experiences. .

These claims regarding "profound experiences" involve scholarship in fields such as sociology, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, aesthetics, history, religion, linguistics, musicology, psychoanalysis, cognitive science, physiology, and others. Scholars argue the significance of this concept, as it is the means to satisfy the need to demonstrate selfness with the materials that are employed for self-manifestation.

 An important point to remember is that music offers an example of a subject-object interplay between the individual and collective existence that humans can experience. However, this is a slippery subject. There have been numerous reports about subjective dimensions of this subject-object polarity of musical experience, since it seems to be ubiquitous in human experience. However, when examining verbal reports, one cannot seem to avoid the metaphor, imagery, and figurative language that offer only oblique suggestions.

            The author mentions a study by Robert Panzarella, who created four categories of responses of those who experienced a peak state: "renewal ecstasy," "motor-sensory ecstasy," "withdrawal ecstasy," and "fusion-emotional ecstasy." A renewal ecstasy is the yielding of an altered perception of the world, such as when the paradox of good and evil is perceived as something to be accepted, rather than to be fought. A motor sensory ecstasy deals with responses of physical change such as a feeling of "floating" or change in the heartbeat, which is more common in music than in visual arts. The withdrawal ecstasy is the loss of contact with the environment. And finally, the fusion-emotional ecstasy describes a feeling of fusion with the music.

Interestingly, the ranges of music that trigger this experience are extremely broad. It seems almost impossible to describe any particular musical features that cause profound experiences. These experiences take place in a defined community of musical expectations, and the strong response to music is with the music with which they were familiar. If the music is very foreign to the person, then there is a very little chance that they would have an optimal experience, although it is not impossible. As music educators, the author believes that our zeal arises ultimately from the desire to help others to become profoundly moved as well. Also, he suggests that continuing work in philosophy of education is indispensable.



                 This is another article that describes the sensation of flow. I found it intriguing that Maslow discovered that the religious/mystic experience often can result from aesthetic settings that does not particularly involve religion. It made me realize that the reason I gravitated toward this topic was because my family was extremely religious, and I grew up listening to mainly about discussions regarding spirituality. I feel that this upbringing had left a strong impact on the way I perceive music, and the sensations I seek. I never turned out as religiously devoted as my parents, but their values have surely been imprinted on my musical experiences.

                 Panzella's argument regarding the four categories of responses of those who experienced a peak state is very compelling, as they closely resemble the effect of MDMA and ecstasy drugs. Even the physical sensation of "floating" is exactly the same, perhaps due to the secretion of serotonin.

                 First of all, this tells me that this is a sensation that humans are inclined to search for, with the use of the drugs or without. Also, this is a strong indication to me that one is able to achieve this state of mind without the help of the drugs, and that learning to invest one's self in the optimal experiences that life has to offer is one of the best solutions in learning to quit drug abuse. In this aspect, what music educators can do in contribution to humanity is simply beyond words. One cannot create optimal experiences for others, but we are able to learn the ways to promote the experience.

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1 comment:

Lee Bartel said...

The connection of the feelings of the "numinous" as described by Rudolph Otto and musical experience are interesting. Reimer in his own doctoral thesis looked at similarities between aesthetic experience and religious experience. It is a fascinating path of thought. You might explore this further.