Apparently, the same people who wish to be only happy in life, are the same people who the next moment willingly put on sad music and make themselves become sad. Why?

What is familiar to us is often habitual, and thus includes whatever routine we have of music listening, including our favorite sad music.  I may know a sad piece of music completely by heart, and yet experience it as though for the first time on each occasion I put it on.  Music merges with what is habitual in our life, adds to it an extra weave in the already complex pattern we cannot describe because it is constantly changing. Music – listening, performance, appreciation, scholarship, learning – is taken up into our life and becomes routine. I may not even have sought it out initially. Someone may have played it to me, or I encountered it first totally on a whim. This may be one answer to our question: I listen to sad music because it is simply what I do.

Sadness sought out in music? Does such a person think to himself: ‘This music is sad; I want to be sad; therefore, I put this music on to be sad’? No, of course not. A person in this situation has no need to inform himself why he is doing what he is doing. First, there is typically no such thought process preceeding a musical experience, or following it. It is not characteristic of listening to or performing music to bethink to oneself one’s motivation as if the experience must be accompanied by a spoken soliloquy to make sense. Second, such a thought process cannot inform me in the same way as it informs you. For you, it is information. For me, a point of emphasis. Do we see the picture here: it is the picture which intrudes of a thought process that explains my action.

Now, a person may talk to himself inwardly while the music is on, but not to give himself information. What is the meaning of this monologue? His words may convey his level of interest in the music (a melody, a recurring theme, how the trombones sound, etc) and function more like an exclamation than a descriptive statement. Certainly, one can imagine this occurring in upbeat or joyful music. In sad or melancholic music, self-talk is expressive of the sad quality perceived in the music. Again, it stresses what is noteworthy in the music. The music merits attention. It really did impress one.

We want to be sad for a time; at least, sad for as long as the music lasts. Music presents a face, and we resonate with it in understanding as long as we are interested. It is really like fellow-feeling. I do not even wish to say that we aim in music listening to recreate sadness, happiness, or any such fleeting emotional response. We do aim, I believe, to empathize with what is perceived in the music as expressive of our own human interests, wants, desires, hopes, etc. We find it there in music, and return to it habitually; in part because we find it in so few other places.

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