Op-ed: Classical music has value despite its “old-school” reputation in pop culture

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You’ve probably heard the flashy, upbeat music of BTS, Lil Nas X, and Ariana Grande on the radio. Popular music today relies heavily on Technology to capture the feeling a composer intends to convey. All components of a song – from its lyrics to its beats and even its pitches – contribute to a track’s aura, and some current songs may not have the emotional impact that they currently produce if not was not for the flexibility of modern music technology. However, a piece by Tchaikovsky, a classical music composer, is unlikely to make it into Spotify’s curated playlist of today’s top hits. But while classical music doesn’t typically make the Billboard Top 100, it does contain physical, emotional, and mental benefits that prove how its independence from current music technology doesn’t take away from its value.

Colin Eatock, a Canadian composer who has held music-related positions ranging from music critic to arts administrator, asked his students to bring their own reasons why they don’t like classical music. They state: classical music is cognitively boring because it lacks visceral or emotional appeal, pieces are too long, classical works are too complicated without a distinct melody, symphony orchestras cannot match the grand sonic appeal rock bands in a stadium, too much classical music is instrumental and for those that contain singers (i.e. operas) their vocal style sounds like shouting and the words they convey are difficult to to hear.

Classical music can be easily fired or eclipsed as our ears have adapted to the dazzling characteristics that technology allows modern artists to incorporate into tracks. Still, I think we should be more optimistic about letting classical music find a place in our Gen-Z lives. Otherwise, we’d be shielding ourselves from the potential physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits that today’s most technologically refined pieces fail to encompass.

There are many physical benefits to classical music to consider. According to a Oxford University study, genres such as rap, pop and techno raised participants’ blood pressure while classical music did the opposite. A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing determined that sleep quality can be improved if individuals listen to classical music for 45 minutes before going to bed. The Lancet has a study suggesting that people who want pain relief can try listening to classical music to reduce their painkiller intake. In our busy college lives, simply finding classical music to play in the background can be a practical approach for a student wishing to take advantage of these physical benefits but with limited time and resources to do so.

In terms of cognitive benefits, a study published in Consciousness and Cognition showed how Mozart’s music increased the activity of brain waves responsible for memory. French researchers have published results in Learning and Individual Differences in which students who did not listen to classical music along with a lesson performed worse on a test than those who did. Another one study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy from Mexico proves that classical music can treat the symptoms of depression. A study in boundary psychology found that music can improve mood by increasing dopamine secretion. I believe that the physical and cognitive assets of classical music provide a stronger reason for people to be open to listening to the “outdated” genre. Although the prospect of listening to music composed decades ago may seem daunting, the benefits of classical music are still very beneficial in today’s hectic times.

To those who complain that classical music lacks ’emotional or visceral appeal’, UK-based pianist, piano teacher, music critic and blogger on music and pianism Frances Wilson strong points some sentimentally wrapped pieces. She describe by Schubert Winterreise as a “personal tragedy portrayed in hauntingly beautiful music”. Personally, Dvorak Serenade for strings in E major mentally transports me to a glazed field of blooming flowers as the glorious sun rises in a cool, soothing dawn. Don’t be ashamed if you have symptoms that reflect the Stendhal syndrome, which Wilson attributes to our emotional connection to music. This emotional reaction is characterized by rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, fainting, tears, and confusion in response to emotionally deep masterpieces. If you experience this, your body is just transmitting its own way of tapping into your humanity to connect with the art.

Although some classic pieces are dauntingly long, the benefits they can bring to listeners are overwhelming. Our musical tastes are subjective and I don’t ask everyone to become a classical music enthusiast. Rather, I think that as Northeastern students, we can recognize the benefits of incorporating classical music into our lives for our overall emotional, cognitive, and physical health. Besides searching for classical music on Spotify, you can observe the awe of a composer’s feelings anchored in your soul by watching a concert on campus by the North East Symphony Orchestra. Alternatively, you can walk a few miles to Symphony Hall to watch the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or the BSO. With a $30 college card, you can also attend any BSO concert for free. If you are interested in learning more about the cognitive benefits of music, I strongly encourage you to explore the research produced by Northeastern’s Music, Imaging and Neural Dynamics Laboratory, directed by associate professor of the music department Psyché Loui. Although many classical composers have passed away, their music lives on thanks to the benefits they provide to their listeners.

Jethro Ronald Lee is a freshman majoring in Data Science and Psychology combined with a Minor in Music at the University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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