Chapter 4: Music

With the garua setting in a blanket of heavy layer of fog around the mansion, the hostages feel as though time has come to a halt in their separation from the outside world. They become listless as they become more accustomed to their new routine in captivation. For some, they took advantage of this time to pursue certain interests. For Hosokawa it was finally learning different languages, especially Italian, by utilizing the people within the house. For others, it’s a chance to step up and reveal their talents. Tetsuya Kato filled the mansion with music as he poured his heart out on the piano, inspired by memories of his family and his feelings of love and loneliness shared with the other hostages. Like a moth to a flame, they were enthralled. Music became a means of escape from their reality. They spurred Kato to play after every encore, as if they didn’t want it to end.

Music is such a beautiful and complex thing. The instant Kato began playing, everyone became still and it formed a moment of togetherness in the room. It reminds me of a time when my friends and I gathered in the piano room to play every piece we can remember playing when we were younger and our parents had made us take piano lessons. It didn’t matter that it was a simple Happy Birthday song or a complicated piano duet. We would have fun bonding over the music and just listening to each person play. We’d get a laugh from those who have never played a piano before attempt to make up their own melody and play random keys. This moment made me realize how amazing music is because it can bring people together despite their differences. This made me wonder me wonder about what power music holds over us and how it can give each individual such a unique and lasting experience after it has touched them. So why does music exist? What is the purpose or function of music? Is it simply a form of entertainment or art? Did we create music or did we simply mimic it from our surroundings, like the chirping of the birds at first light waking us up from our slumber? These are just some of the questions the came reeling through my mind.

I quickly realized that many have asked these same questions before. Many have tried to learn the psychological function of music and created different theories. I was most interested in the theories some scholars made from an evolutionary standpoint. Falk speculated the “putting-down-the-baby hypothesis” which proposes that music originated from humming or singing created by mothers as they lull their babies to sleep. This parenting method would allow them to maximize their productivity, then they’d have more time to do chores without needing to tend to their babies. He further associated this with the soothing influence of music as he indicated “humming and singing consequently arose as a consoling signal indicating caretaker proximity in the absence of physical touch.” The psychological aspect of music intrigues me because I also attribute this kind of experience to how much safer and comfortable I feel when I hear my mother singing around the house. Some also say that it’s a means of social and emotional communication. Language was created to allow better communication and cooperation between groups of people. In this same manner, music promotes social cohesion so that we can form cohesive groups like we see in different cultures. Some examples that scholars are found to support this theory includes work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems. These were created to remind an individual about the bonds they have with their families, groups or whole nations instilling feelings of loyalty and devotion. [Schafer]

In contrast, a dominating non-evolutionary theory is the “uses-and-gratifications” approach that focuses on the needs and concerns of the listeners and tries to explain how people select and uses music to serve these needs and concerns. There is a broad spectrum for which music can be utilized. It can for entertainment, identity formation, and sensation seeking or culture identification. People crave music because of the self-gratification it provides them. Schubert argues that the fundamental function of music is to provide the listener with pleasure. Bullough pointed out that music can be “used to activate associations, memories, experiences, moods, and emotions.” [Schafer] There are also others that study its influence in stress management and improved well-being. It has been reported in some studies that listening to music triggers specific regions of the brain. Regions being activated involve autonomic response, cognitive processing, reward and pleasure areas. The hypothalamus is specifically involved in regulating stress as it affects other areas of the body in maintaining homeostasis. [Thoma]

Out of all these function, I found myself more intrigued by the function of music associated with social cohesion. It is easier for me to examine this function in relation to the examples showed in the book. Music has already proven its calming effect on the terrorists and hostages. Music also seems to be the key to their growing bond.

I further explored the concept of social cohesion in a study utilizing families and peer group as they listen to and bond over their interests in music. People bond over musical activities as it gives them a sense of belonging in that group. Since music has become increasingly popular, especially in adolescents, music becomes a major theme in family cohesion. Boer examines how music listening is used as a family routines and rituals, which are fundamental to forming strong emotional bonds between family members. Singing lullabies during bedtime, singing songs during special events like “Happy Birthday”, and watching their children have a choir performance are just some examples I can think of. Personally, my family likes to sing karaoke during large gatherings family reunions, parties, and Christmas. The most prominent family ritual they observed is watching TV. Families can plan their schedule around their favorite shows and bond over these interests, therefore “facilitating social interaction and bonding.” “Some existing evidence indicates that music remains an important part of the family identity, a way of transmitting family values, norms, and culture, and enhancing family cohesion. I can relate this back to Kato’s memories of his family as he plays his piano. As they slept, he would play his piano and it became “like air, what they depended on and had long since stopped noticing” therefore, it has become their own family ritual. [Boer]

In relation to peer groups, Boer focuses on the shift that people experience during their adolescence as they begin to separate from their family and seek out their peers more. In doing so, they are trying to find their own identity. Engaging in social activities that are musically involved is frequently observed. When I was a child my parents had me take piano and singing lessons. I’ve also seen that children are often encouraged to pick an instrument they’d like to learn to play. Boer reports studies that support how these musical activities shared with a peer group contributes to bond or friendship formation. The peer groups that Boer observed include four cultures from Kenya, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Germany. They found a strong mix of traditional and modern music. For Kenya and the Philippines, there is a strong preference for a blend of traditional and Western style music. I was interested to learn that my home country, the Philippines, has “three streams of music: an indigenous musical tradition, which is influenced by the old Asian cultural elements, the Spanish/European-influenced music, and the American-influenced music largely expressed in popular music entailing culture-specific music genres such as Pinoy Rock. In the discussion, Boer shared that music listening in families and peer groups is a strong contributed to family and peer cohesion, even across cultures. “Music activity as a social activity is associated with strong affiliation and connection” with peers and family. This reinforces what we have observed in the book. It will be interesting to see if the terrorists and hostages will form social cohesion within their separate groups and therefore remain separated due to their backgrounds or if music will become the cohesive glue that will finally unite them.

I am very excited with what I found about music and social cohesion. There are so many different psychological and evolutionary factors to be considered in hopes of understand music, but scholars have yet to decide on a cohesive explanation for its true function. Maybe there really isn’t one and music is simply something you can do with as you wish. In the future, I would be interested in finding more studies that explores how music listening could influence the social bonding between strangers. I would also be interested to see how music reveals more similarities or differences between the hostages and terrorists.

  1. Boer D, Abubakar A. Music listening in families and peer groups: benefits for young people’s social cohesion and emotional well-being across four cultures. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014; 5: 392.
  2. Schäfer T, Sedlmeier P, Städtler C, Huron D. The psychological functions of music listening. Frontiers in Psychology. 2013;4:511.
  3. Thoma MV, La Marca R, Brönnimann R, Finkel L, Ehlert U, Nater UM.The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response.PLoS ONE. 2013. 8(8): e70156.



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