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See Inside July/August 2009

Why Music Moves Us

New research explains music's power over human emotions and its benefits to our mental and physical well-being



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As a recreational vocalist, I have spent some of the most moving moments of my life engaged in song. As a college student, my eyes would often well up with tears during my twice-a-week choir rehearsals. I would feel relaxed and at peace yet excited and joyful, and I occasionally experienced a thrill so powerful that it sent shivers down my spine. I also felt connected with fellow musicians in a way I did not with friends who did not sing with me.

I have often wondered what it is about music that elicits such emotions. Philosophers and biologists have asked the question for centuries, noting that humans are universally drawn to music. It consoles us when we are sad, pumps us up in happier times and bonds us to others, even though listening to an iPod or singing “Happy Birthday” does not seem necessary for survival or reproduction.

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