Sorrow, Comfort, & Joy
The effects of emotional arousal on the vocalization process are primarily controlled by the limbic system. They are generally produced via tonic activation in the somatic nervous system (in particular the striated musculature) and sympathetic as well as parasympathetic activation of the autonomous nervous system. In addition, direct sympathetic or parasympathetic effects such as respiration changes and the secretion of mucus can affect the production of vocalization (Scherer, pg. 240).
A linguist, actually an ethnomusicolinguist, Anoop Chandola, supports Scherer’s assertion that emotions are tied to human physiology in a book entitled Music as Speech - an Ethnomusicolinguistic Study of India: "Emotion has been defined as consisting of a synchronization of changes in all organismic sub-systems, thus accounting for the pervasiveness and power of emotional states. There is another dimension shared by language and music – the phonemotive components. We call them ‘phonemotive’ because they are those phonetic touches which express the emotive aspect of a sound... The finest narrow distinctions of phonemotive components are perceptible only through human voice" (Chandola). This is also an argument in favor of the human voice as the best instrument for expressing emotion.
In linguistics, it is well accepted that intonation (the rising and falling of the ‘fundamental’ or singing pitch of the voice) "is the same, in spite of superficial differences, no matter where we find it, because of its ties to human physiology" (Bollinger, pg. 26). Linguists have found that certain contours are apparently universal, such as the rise in pitch for questions, and for the normal breath group, "the terminal falling fundamental frequency contour" (Lieberman, pg. 195). Not only the contour of a breath group, but also the overall pitch level is a result of emotion:
Vocal pitch is more or less inseparably associated with the speaker’s biological condition. Normally, the speaker’s articulatory muscles begin to lose their elasticity as he grows tired, with the result that his voice becomes lower and his pitch range narrower. Conversely, when he feels cheerful and inflated, his general tone of voice tends to rise (Abe).
Many linguists believe that intonation, or melody, preceded spoken language. One linguist puts it this way: "Human language, like all other aspects of human behavior, must be viewed as the result of a Darwinian process of natural selection that gradually developed from simpler communications systems. Intonation can be viewed as a basic and ‘primitive’ element in human language in that the laryngeal and respiratory mechanisms that structure the segmenting aspects of human intonation are to be found in many other animals" (Lieberman, pg. 188).
Even in other sciences, this is a point of interest. Charles Darwin posited that the expression of emotions (such as pleasure and pain, as well as breeding calls) is shared by the animal kingdom, and thus, "seems to have been the primeval use and means of development of the voice" (Darwin, pg. 84). In discussing the writings of Herbert Spencer, Darwin says, "Mr. Spencer further shows that emotional speech... is intimately related to vocal music, and consequently to instrumental music; and he attempts to explain the characteristic qualities of both on physiological grounds -- namely, on the general law that a feeling is a stimulus to muscular action... This remark holds good, whether we believe that the various qualities of the voice originated in speaking under the excitement of strong feelings, and that these qualities have subsequently been transferred to vocal music; or whether we believe, as I maintain, that the habit of uttering musical sounds was first developed, as a means of courtship, in the early progenitors of man, and thus became associated with the strongest emotions of which they were capable" (Darwin, pp. 86-7). The idea that emotion and the intoned expression of emotion precedes language is a good argument for the universality of intonation patterns and other non-linguistic aspects of emotional vocalizations.
In the music of India, there is a complex system of relationships between notes within a scale that allows for the expression of various emotions. Since every note is associated with a particular feeling, certain ones are omitted in certain ragas: "According to the theoretical explanation of the shrutis, all the notes cannot have the same kind of expression and in a scale, therefore, there are necessarily contrasts. This is why the most intense ragas should be pentatonic, since in a pentatonic scale it is easier to eliminate the notes that would not support the predominant expression" (Danielou, pg. 43). The fifth, (pa) expresses sunshine, and joy, so a very sad raga will leave it out. And since a fourth (shuddha ma) expresses peace, and serenity, a passionate raga will leave out the fourth. According to Danielou, "Each of the notes of the scale has its own kind of expression and a distinct psychological or physical effect, and so it can be related to a colour, a mood, a metre, a deity or one of the subtle centers (chakras) of the body. These relationships are given an important place in all Sanskrit treatises on music. For laughter (hasya) and love (shringara), Madhyama (fourth) and Panchama (fifth) are used. For compassion, (karuna), Nishada (minor seventh) and Gandhara (minor third); in peace, Madhyama (fourth)’ (Vishnu-dharmottara, 3, 18)" (Danielou, pg. 92-93). Danielou also claims that there is a "direct connection between intervals, determined by physical laws, and the emotions they arouse or express" (Danielou, pg. 44). I would have thought that intervals and scale degrees being connected to particular emotions would be culture specific. Yet, in India, the minor 3rd and minor 7th are connected with Karuna (compassion and sadness – or sorrow) and the 4th connected with peace (comfort), and the 5th connected with laughter (joy). These strangely coincide with the melodic movement of the chord progressions I composed (with my own Western ears) to represent the three songs of the Dagda Mor in my Irish story: the song of sorrow is based on minor seventh chords, thus containing the minor 3rd and the minor 7th; the song of comfort progresses from the I chord to the IV chord; and the song of joy progresses from the I to the V chord. To hear how these are used in the story, see Appendix II. I did not base the compositions on anything other than my own intuition and personal experience with music, so I am rather surprised by the correlation, and even somewhat skeptical about the implications that the (very Western) chord movement could be tied into the same principles that govern Indian scale theory. It makes me wonder if there is, underlying every culture’s music system, some musical element that is universal. And if so could it be that there is a physiological explanation? Next Page
© Copyright 1997 Verlene Schermer
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