Music and emotions

Music may help us to understand the relationship between emotions and learning. Musicologists have become interested in philosophical notions suggesting that emotions are not just reflections of a state of mind but are related to cognition, and can thus be helpful in the process of learning.

These thoughts were among those explored in an international seminar on Education and Philosophy in the Arts, held at the Finnish Institute in November. The seminar, directed by Professor Kari Kurkela, was organised as a part of the Doctoral Study Programme of Performing Arts, a co-operative project of the Sibelius Academy, the Theatre Academy and the University of Helsinki.

According to Marja Heimonen from the Soloist Department of the Sibelius Academy, it has been claimed that emotions reflect nothing but the individual consciousness of the subject. There are, however, several ways in which emotions have been thought to relate to cognition.

"Psychoanalysts have stated that we will not learn anything unless the limbic system - the part of the brain most actively implicated in emotional states - is stimulated at the time of learning. If this is true, then a 'meaningful' relationship to music might itself be a stimulant of cognition necessary for learning anything about music."

Heimonen said that cross-cultural research strongly suggests that a number of emotions have universally recognisable expressions, such as happiness, sadness, fear and anger. She pointed out that other emotions are not so easily recognisable cross-culturally. They may even be sub-culturally variable.

"We may thus ask if emotions mean the same for the Finns as for the English. And if 'a good relationship to music' involves 'emotions', we have to remember that some expressions are almost as local as dialects. This means that 'a good relationship to music' may have different meanings in different parts of the world and in different societies: individuals in a particular society may have different kinds of 'good' relationships."

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