Monday, May 28, 2007

Music soothes the savage beast

Patty here…

Research has shown that music is tied to the emotional circuitry of our brains and therefore affects how we feel, both positively and negatively. Sometimes music produces more than simple emotions. It triggers something primal. A executive friend of mine once admitted there was one note in a song from the musical Les Miserables that made him sob every time he heard it. I find this intriguing, so lately I’ve been doing a little field research of my own.

Case Study Number One: Jersey Boys

Last Friday night I went to see Jersey Boys at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. For those of you who don’t already know, it’s the story of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons singing group, the talented guys who brought us “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Walk Like a Man,” “Let’s Hang on to What We’ve Got,” and many more hit songs. Maybe it was Frankie Valli’s high notes that got to me. His music made me feel happy (I was one of those people dancing in the aisles as I left the theatre) and sad (one more story of young people with talent and grit who scratch their way to the top only to see the trappings of fame rip them apart). Seeing what was happening in their lives and the songs those events inspired made for a rich and rewarding experience.

You’ll see what I mean when you watch the real Four Seasons singing “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” allegedly inspired by a young Gaudio’s first sexual experience, which took place on the road in—what else—December, 1963.

Erich Bergen, Michael Ingersoll, Christopher Kale Jones, and Deven May are the four talented guys who star in the show. They made me fall in love with them, with The Four Seasons, and with whole theatre experience. See for yourself. Here they with Jay Leno.

Case Study Number Two: Toning

Some years ago a friend invited me to a toning concert at a psychic woo-woo alternative church. Being game for anything, I agreed to go. I didn’t know at the time but toning is an ancient and powerful healing sound used to release tension and balance the mind, body, and spirit. Here's a Web site I found in which Don Campbell describes toning as, "Simple and audible sound, prolonged long enough to be identified. Toning is the conscious elongation of a sound using the breath and voice."

Shortly after we arrived at the church, a dozen average-looking people walked onto the stage dressed in outfits that were only slightly outlandish, nothing your nerdy cousin wouldn’t wear. They all took one collective breath and began toning. Simple and audible? Hmmm. It sounded more like an alien giving birth. I must have had a lot of pent-up tension because almost immediately I started to laugh. I mean HYSTERICALLY. I couldn’t stop. I was sitting in a chair, bent over at the waist wheezing, barely able to breathe.

At one point I glanced at my friend. Her eyes were wide with panic. I knew what she was thinking—I’m with a total lunatic. I would have left the sanctuary and spared her the embarrassment of having dozens of disapproving gazes aimed at her, but I was laughing too hard to stand much less walk.

Okay, you gotta know I’m laughing at my computer as I write this because just thinking about toning sends me to a dangerous place. I’m not sure my brain has ever recovered, which could explain an awful lot. Make me feel good and tell me this has happened to you.

On a serious note, on this Memorial Day I'm wishing for the world to know peace, forgiveness, and remembrance. And to you and yours, the best always.


  1. Hi Patty,

    I'll take The Jersey Boys over toning any day. But that audible-stretched out sound as catharsis and balancing is exactly the way I appreciate San Francisco's fog horns. So maybe they've got something there!

  2. I love fog horns. They're so atmospheric. But do they make you laugh? Methinks not.

  3. I had my first sexual encoutner in December too. But it was 2003, not 1963.

    I was a late bloomer.

    Jim B.

  4. You're not a late bloomer, Jim. You're just young. There's a difference.

  5. Now, if I had had my first sexual experience in 2003--but then, I'm at an age when I have to try and remember my last sexual experience ...

    "Toning", huh? I think we used to call that chanting, especially when done by Buddhists -- "Aaaauuummmmmmm . . . "

    When I was a classical musician, I remember how at parties people would say to me, "Oh, yes, classical music is very good if you want to relax."

    As if Beethoven's ninth were elevator music.

    That always bugged the pee out of me. "To the contrary," I would frequently reply, "I love it because it's so exciting."

    For putting me in a good mood, nothing beats Mozart at his sunniest. But I do have the 2 CD collection of the Best of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and I listen to it and even sing along, except for the high notes--which, of course means, that I don't really get to sing along with the melody, but what the hell. And if they want to take my Beatles records, they can have them when they prem them out of my cold dead hands.

  6. Love the clips. You've got me singing "She-rrrrr-y." We're seeing "Jersey Boys" in two weeks, and we're psyched.

  7. James, I know people who listen to classical music because they think it makes them seem...well...classy, but they don't really know anything about the music.

    Paulie, you're going to LOVE Jersey Boys. Prepare to dance in the aisles.

  8. For some reason, the pictures didn't come through, but I enjoyed the memories you evoked. I think I missed my first sexual experience and went straight to the second one, but I'm not sure. Define "first."

    Can't say that I've toned or been toned, but it does sound like fodder for Flip Wilson's Church of What's Happening Now!


  9. Sure, Patty, post the video for one of my favorite songs ever. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were also the first concert I attended, at the Iowa State Fair in 1976--where my 9th grade swing choir was also performing (albeit on much smaller stages).

    Toning? For some reason I was envisioning weight benches and tanning beds...

    Now I'm going to go watch the video again...

  10. Groupie, so sorry you didn't see the pictures. Go to YouTube and watch them there. The meaning of first? Hmmm. Only a deep thinker like you would ask that question.

    Jeff, too bad you don't have any videos of that swing choir to post on YouTube. Rats!