Rock Music

"Michael Jackson is expected to arrive in Bucharest!" I was told upon arriving in Romania. "That's too bad," I thought. My wife and I had just come from Poland, where we had presented talks on the effects of music. I now wondered how to alert the unsuspecting youth of Romania to the dangers of rock music. They hunger for anything that symbolizes "freedom" and are totally vulnerable to the subtle-but not so innocuous-effects of this powerful American influence.

Thousands flocked to the concert to hear Michael Jackson. Not long after the program began, the media televised pictures of those whose unconscious forms had to be passed overhead-transported by the mob's uplifted hands and arms-to the waiting medical staff for resuscitation. Other fans swayed, twisted, and contorted their bodies in response to the overwhelming pulsating rhythms emanating from the rock star's highly amplified and well-orchestrated band. Still others acted dazed and almost hypnotized. The audience seemed to be caught up in a high state of exhilaration-temporarily abandoning any sense of self restraint, and clamoring for more potent doses of an unseen "drug."

These scenes invoked "instant replays" of my own experiences in show business as bass player with Bill Haley and The Comets. People often wonder: "Is music really that potent? Or are these people-whose behaviors range from a state of hypnotism to an almost uncontrolled frenzy-just putting on an act?" No, it's not an act. Music really has that power!

In fact, it has been known for several millenniums that music is a powerful medium capable of producing the above-mentioned phenomena. Both Plato and Aristotle were cognizant of this fact. More than three centuries before Christ, Aristotle wrote that "Emotions of any kind are produced by melody and rhythm ... Music has the power to form character ... ."*

Howard Hanson, a prominent composer formerly with the Eastman School of Music, states: "Music is a curiously subtle art with innumerable, varying emotional connotations. It is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportions of these components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has powers for evil as well as for good."*

As a young man in show business, I often boasted about the power my music had on people. I exulted over my ability to manipulate the crowds both physically and emotionally. However, at the time I had no idea how or why it worked. What is it about music that affects us, as human beings, and brings about these alterations?

Music is made up of rhythms. Tones, from which we build melodies and harmonies, are produced by rhythmical vibrations (a certain number of vibrations per second produces a given note). In fact, the first three elements of music-melody, harmony, and tone color-are the result of the arrangement and "quality" of these rhythmical vibrations. What we usually refer to as "rhythm" includes the grouping of tones into "measures" of music, as well as the tempo at which these groupings are played or sung.

An interesting fact that may give us clearer insight as to why music has such power over the human frame is that we are also essentially rhythmical creatures. "There is rhythm in respiration, heartbeat, speech, gait, etc. The cerebral hemispheres are in a perpetual state of rhythmical swing day and night."*

Since both music and man are rhythmical, it is not difficult to understand why a person exposed to music begins to assimilate its beats. This is demonstrated when a person begins tapping the feet or exhibiting some kind of body movement in response to music. Thus, the body automatically alters its own rhythms to synchronize with the outside stimuli.

What is actually happening within the body is that "sound vibrations acting upon and through the nervous systems give shocks in rhythmical sequence to the muscles, which cause them to contract and set our arms and hands, legs and feet in motion. On account of this automatic muscular reaction, many people make some movement when hearing music."* It is because of this automatic rhythm emulation that music can alter us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The critical question, then, is which types of music or what part of music reacts adversely with our body functions and brings about these changes?

In 1987, scientists conducted a series of experiments to find out what kinds of music would be harmonious to body rhythms and what kinds would not. They divided 36 newborn mice into three groups: the control group, which was not exposed to music; the harmonic* group, which was exposed to simple classical music; and the disharmonic* group, which was exposed to disharmonic rhythms typical of rock music.

For two months, the harmonic and disharmonic groups were exposed to music night and day. After these two months, 12 mice-four from each group-were sacrificed and their brains were properly prepared and frozen for later study.

Next, the other 24 mice were exposed to three weeks of maze "training." Then they were given three weeks of rest, during which time no testing or maze reinforcement occurred. Finally, the mice were exposed to another three weeks of maze training to establish their degree of learning retention. Throughout this process, behavior changes and discrepancies were carefully noted. At the conclusion of the maze training, these 24 mice were sacrificed and their brains were studied along with those of the previous 12 mice.

The results of the study were sobering. The mice of the control and harmonic groups were very similar; no significant differences appeared. However, the disharmonic group showed a significant decrease in learning retention/memory, hyperactivity, and aggression. (During the three-month preliminary testing, some of the mice exposed to the disharmonic music resorted to cannibalism.) Some mice in the disharmonic group experienced lethargy and inattentiveness, while all experienced significant brain alterations.

Because of the nature of the study and the particular animals chosen for the experiment, we have every reason to believe that these same results occur in humans. This means that the rhythms typical of rock music are the main culprits: "disharmonic" music causes brain damage and behavior degradation. It is interesting to note that these behavioral changes are easily observable at any rock concert, as I mentioned earlier in the description of the Michael Jackson concert in Bucharest.

An added problem of rock music is the words of each song, which penetrate with force and seek to seduce the hearer. Once the person is mentally disoriented, the mind is then open to whatever suggestions the words may carry, whether it be sex, drugs, suicide, violence, abandonment, or even religion.

Because of the dangers inherent in this now-American legacy, it is important for Christians to guard themselves from its effects. We should learn to adjust our taste in music to that which is a melodic, purely "harmonic" style of music. In this style, the rhythmic groupings will always be very loyal to the naturally accented beats of the time signature (i.e., in 4/4 time, the first and third beats of the measure).

On the other hand, disharmonic music can most quickly be identified by its "swing" beat or syncopation, which moves the hearer away from the naturally emphasized beats (i.e., it emphasizes the second and fourth beats in a measure with 4/4 time). This off-beat syncopation tends to cause a side-to-side movement in the listener's body, thus distinguishing it as "dance" music. This side-to-side movement is a "telltale" sign that music has had a disorienting effect on the listener's body rhythms.

Because music enters directly into the autonomic nervous system, thus bypassing the master brain, the only time one can choose what happens to his body is before he listens to the music. Let's make those choices count on the side of healthy bodies and sound minds.

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