As a species, we love to gossip and listen to music. But which came first? Most would argue we limped our way up to language via grunts and noises we began to associate with objects, however some believe we danced our way up the evolutionary ladder singing show-tunes (well, not exactly).
However there seems to be some evidence that music had a role to play in the evolution of the human race. There has to be a reason why we find comfort in music, and it might not simply be due to the lullabies we heard as babies
Why does music have the ability to evoke emotions even when no words are used? Is ‘classical’ largely a word used to refer to music appreciated by the economical or social elite? These were some of the topics that were put up for discussion during the conference on The Musical Brain — From Science to Therapy, organised by Neurokrish, a Chennai-based neuropsychiatry group as part of the K Gopalakrishna Endowment Lecture in Chennai on Sunday.
The two-day conference began with lectures on ‘Laughing and Crying – Are they good for You’ by Michael Trimble, Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Neurology at University College, UK and another by popular Carnatic musician T M Krishna on ‘Aesthetics to Emotions-Perspectives from Carnatic Music’.
According to Michael Trimble, during his lecture he pointed out that music seems to have evolved even before the evolution of language as it is known today. It began with the discovery of fire and the arrival of cooking, social gatherings and then community music and dance that came with it. Prehistoric cave paintings point at evidence towards such gatherings and social sessions. Later there would be more forms of communication leading to stories and myths.
He also pointed out that one of the first forms of bonding between the mother and a baby comes when the baby starts to weep for the mother. This makes the mother come to the child, sing lullabies and rock the baby comfortingly in rhythmic motions. “This experience is retained into adulthood. It has to be noted that the mother does not communicate with the baby in normal adult frequencies but in the frequency more in tune with that of a soprano. One of the reasons for people to seek out this music later would be to derive the comfort that one experienced as a baby,” he said.
He pointed out that as per a study conducted among Japanese and Europeans it was found that more people are moved to tears by listening to music rather than other forms of art, be it poetry or painting or novels.
T M Krishna spoke at length on the ability of music especially art music to produce emotions in the listener without resorting to a word or even the recall of memories associated with that emotion. He pointed out that while different music deliver different emotions, be it tunes of protest which evoke the emotions of the social message, or folk music that evokes the shared experience of the community, or religious music that helps to bring about a heightened emotion towards the god that is sung about, art music deals directly with emotions.
It’s an interesting ‘chicken or the egg’ question to ponder. For further reading to see how chimpanzees fit into all of this, read our other post: Chimp calls suggest language evolved from a song
What are some of your thoughts on the matter? Let us know below.