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It is evening, after a long day at work. I play my favorite CD: Johannes Brahms's second piano concerto. The solemn horn solo in the first two measures flows into the soft crescendo of a piano chord. A wave of memories floods my mind: pictures of the forest around Rottweil, Germany; lines from poems; that day late one summer when I was 16 years old and first discovered the concerto. The conclusion of a particular movement takes my breath away. The pianist gradually increases the tempo and volume and completely expends his energy. I feel a tingling down my spine.
We have all probably at one time or another experienced this sort of thrill from music. When music causes one of these "skin orgasms," the self-reward mechanisms of the limbic system--the brain's emotional core--are active, as is the case when experiencing sexual arousal, eating or taking cocaine. It is conceivable that such self-reward helped to lead ancient peoples to make music. Humans were already constructing the first music-making tools more than 35,000 years ago: percussive instruments, bone flutes and jaw harps. Since then, music, like language, has been part of every culture across the globe.