Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Kelly McHale
English 201
Essay 3
December 2002

Hooked On A Feeling

I think I’m hooked on a feeling. I think we all might be. You know what I’m talking about—that feeling you get when you listen to music. If you listen to it in your room, at a party, the soundtrack to a movie, or, my addiction, in your car. I realized that I was addicted when I went through withdrawals the other week. It all began when my car stereo was stolen out of my car. I had to drive down to Seattle that day—an entire hour without music. I thought I’d be fine, that it wouldn’t be a big deal. But boy was I wrong.

Five minutes into the drive and I couldn’t stop looking at the hole in my dash where my "dealer" used to stay. You see, my addiction to music was like an addicts addiction to a drug—my CD player acted as my daily supplier. To get my mind off of my craving I’d look around at the scenery, think of what I was going to do that weekend, and look at other drivers—big mistake. I could see their lips moving and heads bopping and thumbs tapping. They were listening to music! Fine, I thought, I’ll just sing my own songs. Only, my singing just wasn’t the same. I longed to hear guitars, drums, and background singers. So, I stopped butchering my favorite songs and listened instead to the drone of the engine. My craving for music quickly turned into grumpiness. I got frustrated at the other drivers and couldn’t wait to get out of my car. I was having withdrawals. I needed my fix! I needed it quick! I needed to hear some music!

That was when I realized I was hooked on a feeling. Music has always been in my life. I love listening to the radio, my favorite CDs, and best of all live concerts. I always listen to music in my car. I feel free to sing at the top of my lungs and jam out to my favorite songs when nobody is with me. I love the sense of freedom and absence of all my insecurities when I’m driving and singing by myself. When I get ready in the morning I listen to the radio to wake me up, and when I’m just hanging out with my friends we’ll pop in some of our favorite CDs to liven up the mood. I must admit, I have no real musical talent aside from a 3-month stint with the clarinet in the fifth grade, and my singing ability is quite embarrassing, but music has always been a great appreciation of mine.

The truth is that just about everybody everywhere is musical (Milius 48). The most off-key croakers among us respond to music, feeling the chill in a dirge, quickening to the frolic in a reel, or waiting nervously for a twenty-foot spider to jump out of the darkness when a movie soundtrack turns jittery (Milius 48). Why is that? What is it about music that makes our lives so much more enriched? The loss of my CD player had such a powerful effect on me that I decided to look into what I’ve gotten hooked on.

It’s not just casual music that we listen to for pleasure that affects us, either. For example, you’re watching your favorite scary movie and know exactly what is going to happen next—but you’re still holding your breath. You see Jaws on television for the millionth time and know when the shark is coming—but you still tense up. The music played in movies brings out a surge of feelings that makes the scenes more intense than if they were on mute. I recently found that originally Alfred Hitchcock didn’t want any music in the shower scene in Psycho. After he saw what screeching violins could do, he raised the composer’s salary (Gard 24). Carolyn Gard, author of an article called "Music n’ Moods," found that low-pitched, repetitive sounds suggest fear, a single tone that gets louder and louder instills anxiety, kettle drums provoke anger, and a shrill blast of high notes with a discordant blare of bass notes will drive you to panic (24).

Researchers have known for years that music can cause our heart rates to increase or decrease, make us sweat from fear, tense or relax our muscles, or move us to tears; but exactly how music has the power to manipulate us like this remains a mystery. The times when music completely captivates me the most is when I see it live. I think the sheer loudness of concerts and the massive amounts of people that show up to experience what I experience makes it even more thrilling. To hear my favorite songs played right before me and the eight-foot tall speakers shaking the ground beneath my feet is a very powerful experience in itself. But it is the music that everyone is there for. The crowd knows all of the lyrics; they dance to the fast songs and sit for the slow ones. I get completely enveloped into the harmony of it all.

Music brings people together. At concerts, singing together, dancing together, playing and jamming out together. It can weld people of all cultures together like nothing else can. Groups, teams, and nations are formed under music. I remember playing soccer, volleyball and basketball as a kid on teams with my classmates. Before we stepped out onto the field or court we would scream a chant to get us pumped up and ready to play. I recall feeling my heart pumping and my breathing increase as I screamed the songs with my teammates. It made us closer and prepared us to bind together against the opposing team. During high school football games we sang fight songs to unify ourselves. I’ve also noticed something when I attend baseball games: when the entire stadium is singing the national anthem I get chills up and down my spine thinking of all the voices blending together as one. If we were to merely recite the flag salute together, I hardly think there’d be bombs bursting in air.

A small explanation to the causes of the feelings we get when we hear our favorite songs was briefly explained in a report I found. It says that, in a sense, people really do get "hooked on a feeling" when listening to music. This is due to the fact that listening to music releases natural opioids in our brain that produces a high. Experiments were conducted using Naloxone, a drug used to treat heroin addicts. This drug is meant for use with heroin addicts because it kicks opium off of receptors in the brain producing a sobering effect for those high on heroin. Experiments have shown that if you give Naloxone to an individual (not on heroin) and ask them to listen to their favorite music it suddenly becomes an intellectual exercise. After Naloxone negates the effect of their natural opioids, the intensity of emotion seems to diminish (Pellegrino 4). In other words, this means that there is scientific evidence that music has the ability to release natural substances in our brain that increase our emotions. So, it looks like I, like others, really do get "hooked on a feeling."

Music not only creates a high from natural opioids, but it connects to the emotions of the listener in such a way that he or she creates strong ties with songs and the events or times in their life that they affiliate with them. Many songs trigger a flood of emotions and memories for me when I hear them. Sublime songs conjure up my high school years, time spent with certain friends and the things we did together. Every time I hear a Madonna song I think of my friend, Mary, who is obsessed with her. More recently, I saw a Dave Matthews concert. Each time I hear a song by him, either on the radio or at a friend’s house, it not only brings back memories of the concert itself but of the whole weekend of camping before the concert: the people, the parties, the boat, and the weather. I know that I can walk into a CD store and pick out any type of music that I want and it has the capability of making me happy, excited, angry, sad, or calm. In a world of coldness and unpredictability, music allows one to obtain certain desirable emotional states any time one wishes (Pellegrino 4).

There are times when I hear songs that do not conjure up particularly fond or desirable memories or emotions. For example, songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers will remind me of an unpleasant memory for the rest of my life - the death of a friend. Their music was softly playing in the background when I stepped into the viewing room to see my friend lying in his casket. Now, every time I hear that song all I can think about is that dreadful day when I said goodbye to him. Along with the visual memories, the emotions of that time tag along with them.

The emotions that music invokes in people have even been used as a method of healing. In fact, I found that it is one of the most ancient forms of medicine dating back to 550 B.C. by the Greek musicologist, physician, mathematician, and philosopher Pythagoras (Sidorenko 199). He esteemed music often higher than other forms of medical treatment, since he ascribed to it universality in healing of soul and body (Sidorenko 200). In more recent times, music therapy is gaining ground as a legitimate and powerful way to treat patients with conditions ranging from breast cancer to labor pains (Mazo 74). For Alzheimer’s patients, severely impaired individuals that can’t even recognize their own spouse can remember each and every word to a familiar song, singing perfectly in tune with the melody. Colleges are even catching on to this phenomenon by offering degrees in music therapy, and it is becoming quite popular. Music therapy has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, raise one’s IQ, and aid in memory capacity.

The "Australian Nursing Journal" reported that listening to music during surgery reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and perceived stress in older patients. Twenty patients listened to their choice of music during surgery and twenty did not. The patients in the music group had lower heart rates and blood pressure than those in the non-music group ("Music" 23). Furthermore, studies have been conducted in which researchers reviewed twenty-five vocabulary words with two groups of college students—one group studied with music by Handel and the other without. The group that heard the music while they studied had significantly higher scores than the other group (Jensen 49).

Studying with music playing in the background has always been a distraction for me. I need complete silence. However, the music that I listen to always has lyrics in it, which would make it more bothersome than say, Mozart.

In fact, Mozart’s music has been said to make you smarter. Well, let me rephrase that: an experiment by Rausher and colleagues in the University of California in 1993 caused quite a stir when they suggested that something as simple as listening to a Mozart piano sonata might improve your aptitude for complex tasks (Simpson 64). However, the researchers never claimed that Mozart had the power to raise your general intelligence, but rather your ability on spatial reasoning tasks. Other experiments with EEG measurements taken while patients were having seizures have shown as much as a 41% reduction in epileptiform events while Mozart’s K448 was being played, with a significant beneficial effect being retained after the music stopped (Simpson 65).

But my point is, I don’t want the music to stop! I don’t know what I’d do without it! Listening to music is generally a happy experience for me--one that I’ve gotten hooked on. It only took me one short car ride for me to really appreciate the gifts that music gives me and the rest of the world. It makes movies more intense, changes your mood, unifies groups, allows you to remember events in your past, and can even be used as a form of therapy. Further research into why music has such a strong hold on us left me a little empty handed. I found that others, like myself, are hooked on that feeling, but for what reasons remain unknown. We know that it releases natural opioids, but why does it? It relieves stress, and even has the ability to make us smarter! But how? Regardless of the mystery that shrouds music’s power, I’ll still continue to enjoy it, and maybe even more so now because of its strange power. Most importantly though, I’ll have to buy a new CD player for my car so I can get my daily fix.


Works Cited

Gard, Carolyn. "Music N’ Moods." Current Health Apr. 1997: 24. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO-Host.
        Whatcom Community College. 31 Oct. 2002.

Jensen, Eric. "Teach The Arts For Reasons Beyond The Research." Education Digest Feb. 2002: 47. Academic
        Search Elite.
EBSCO-Host. Whatcom Community College. 31 Oct 2002.

Mazo, Ellen and Melanie Parker. "The Medicine Of Music." Health Jun. 2002: 74. Academic Search Elite.
        EBSCO-Host. Whatcom Community College. 29 Oct. 2002.

Millius, Susan. "Face The Music." Natural History Dec-Jan. 2002: 48. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO-Host.
        Whatcom Community College 29 Oct. 2002.

"Music Soothes During Surgery." Australian Nursing Journal May 2002: 18. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO-Host.
         Whatcom Community College. 29 Oct. 2002.

Pellegrino, Richard G. "What’s Behind The Subliminal Power Of Music." Billboard Jan. 1999: 4. Academic Search
EBSCO-Host. Whatcom Community College. 31 Oct. 2002.

Sidorenko, V.N. "Clinical Application Of Medical Resonance Therapy Music In High-Risk Pregnancies." Integrative
        Physiological and Behavioral Science
July-Sept. 2000: 199. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO-Host.
        Whatcom Community College. 29 Oct. 2002.

Simpson, Marion. "Will Listening To Mozart Make You Smarter?" Student BMJ Mar. 2002: 64. Academic Search
. EBSCO-Host. Whatcom Community College. 29 Oct. 2002.


Copyright 2002
Kelly McHale


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA