“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem” – Anne Frank
Some songs touch us so deeply that they evoke strong feelings of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy. At once, one can also sense an eruption of heavenly magic. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, coined the term ‘peak experience’ to describe moments of rapture like this. Whether they were generated through music, visual art, or moments of sheer creativity, Maslow found that ‘peak experiences’ shared common components:
- Total attention on the object.
- Complete absorption.
- Disorientation from time and space.
- Transcendence of ego.
- Oneness with the object.
- Humility and surrender before greatness.
In their 1989 study of ‘Strong Experiences with Music’ (SEM), The SEM project (Gabrielsson) found that music of a variety of emotional tones could evoke peak experience in some individuals. While some participants reported strong feelings which were categorised as positive (i.e. joy, happiness, enjoyment, delight, sweetness, beauty), others reported negative emotions (i.e. unhappy love, illness, loss) and still others reported conflicting emotions (i.e. bitter-sweet, pleasant memories that will never be captured again).
Gabrielsson emphasises that any experience of music depends on a complex interplay between characteristics of: (1.) the music, (2.) the person, and (3.) the situation. Therefore while the following three songs may be experienced differently by different people, in different contexts, and at different times, their dynamics, tempo, phrasing, modes, themes, and lyrics lend these songs to the evocation of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy.
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
“Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?”
Key: D Major – Hallelujahs, heaven-rejoicing
Tempo: 72 BPM – Adagio – Slow
Released in 1992, Clapton had experienced profound loss in the two years prior. In 1991 he lost two of his road crew and fellow musician, Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter accident. Then in 1992 his 4 year old son died after falling from a high rise apartment building in New York.
Dancing On My Own – Callum Scott
“I keep dancing on my own”
Key – Db Major – Leering grief and rapture
Tempo – Moderato – moderate
Originally an electropop ballad released by Sweedish artist Robyn in 2010, the Scott’s version is slowed down and smoothed out. Scott’s vocal performance and the repeating acoustic piano takes this piece to a new place.
Good Year for the Roses – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
“When you turn to walk away and the door behind you closes”
Key – A Major – Hoping to see ones beloved when parting
Tempo – 97 BPM – Andante – Moderate
This cover song released in 1981 was originally released by George Jones in 1970. The cover rose to number 6 in the UK singles charts in the same year as its release.