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Classical Notes: December 16, 2008 Archive

Christmas Songs as Primal Need

Posted at 7:05 PM on December 16, 2008 by Gillian Martin (3 Comments)

Daniel J. Levitin is an interesting guy. He's a rock musician and record producer who decided to go back to school, earned a PhD, and is now a cognitive neuroscientist specializing in the effects of music on our brains.

He had a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week about Christmas songs. First, he addresses why we sing them:

Our drive to surround ourselves with familiar music during life cycle events and annual celebrations is ancient in origin. Throughout most of our history as a species, music was a shared cultural experience.

Then he goes on to talk about why we get annoyed by them as background music in shopping malls:

Songs that are immediately appealing are not typically those that contain the most surprise. We like them at first and then grow tired of them...Holiday mall music is irritating because the sort of music that appeals to people of disparate backgrounds and ages is going to tend to be harmonically unsurprising.

He also has some interesting thoughts about what he calls "the great and apparent de-socialization of music." Read the whole thing here.

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