Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Music and Emotions

I don’t think we realize the extent to which we are bombarded daily with messages meant to influence our thoughts and behavior.

When you turn on the radio in the morning while pouring your first cup of coffee, the odds are high that you’ll hear a commercial – someone trying to sell you something. If you hit a talk show, there is an agenda that is intended to influence your thinking.

When you drive to work, billboards, signs on trucks, and even license plates carry messages.

To get away from commercialism, you may switch to music, but music is also designed to affect your mind and emotions. Music in a minor key can make you sad or sentimental. Music with a hard beat can make you want to jump around or dance. Music as a background in a movie will enhance the emotion the film producer wants to elicit. Turn off the sound some time and the crying child won’t produce the level of emotion that the violins will produce when combined with the scene.

If you’re old enough, you may remember the thrill of the “Thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver,” as the Lone Ranger galloped out of your radio to the trumpet call from the William Tell Overture.

For a laugh, turn off the music when you see kids dancing on TV. Back in the late middle ages a neurological disorder caused groups of people to go into a dancing frenzy until they collapsed from exhaustion. It was called, “Saint Vitus Dance.” Basically, they all went nuts and it was contagious. All they were missing was one of today’s moronic rappers pacing around on a wooden wagon while screaming obscenities. Today’s rap is the perfect combination of St. Vitus Dance and Tourette Syndrome. It’s good to know we’ve made such progress in terms of musical sophistication.

Classical music can be a powerful driver of emotions. Tristan und Isolde by the German composer, Richard Wagner, is one of my favorites. I played it many years ago with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra, but it doesn’t have much of a trumpet part and as a trumpet player I sat stoically until the trumpet entrance at the peak of the musical buildup. While the string players were working up a sweat sawing madly with bows spewing resin and broken strings whipping the air, I had to count measures finally adding a handful of trumpet notes to the brass entrance. Despite that, it’s a great piece of music.

Personally I enjoy everything from classical music to jazz, from country western to well-written ballads, but some of what is called “music” today falls far outside the true definition of “music.” I may get into this topic a little more in my next blog. Maybe we can take a look at the songwriting process and what makes a song a hit. Until then…


  1. Well welcome back. Is this on the new 'puter?

    Ralph, I'm having some trouble with emotions right now when I hear first one candidate then the other make ridiculous statements meant to elicit strong emotions. Unfortunately it seems their brains did not boot properly because the emotions the elicit from me is disgust. And that's both of them.

  2. Malcolm -

    I find myself turning from politics to football these days. All I know is that we're going off a cliff and our driver is either asleep at the wheel or the vehicle is being driven remotely. It's painful to watch. Maybe it's time for some good music.

  3. Speaking of the officials, let it be known that the Seattle Seahawks will now have to earn their next win! We will see how Pete Carroll likes that!

    PS: Who was speaking of officials????

    PSS: Welcome back, Ralph!

  4. Thanks, Ed. I knew you'd be there...