Music: a part of being human

Mekala Conway

Tim Justus, associate professor of music, sits in his office, surrounded by books, papers, sheet music, and magazines stacked on counters and filing cabinets, and trumpets on stands on the floor. A guitar stand sits across from him, his guitar nestled upon it, waiting for the next time it will be played.

Justus has been in rock bands in college and high school, the service band for the Marines, and a professional musician before he became a music professor, calling it the “the nirvana of musicians,” for its schedules, graceful old age, and dignified retirement.

Of course he would know all about how students use music, how it affects their brains, and why they like it so much.

Music captures the imagination. Justus said many elements of music come into play when it comes to how the brain is affected; the rhythm, the chord progression, and the key the song is played in.

Justus talked about the Greeks’ Doctrine of Ethos, the Greeks’ belief that music affected the mood a person had. According to their belief, Justus said, music was played for men that would encourage masculine, warlike moods, while women heard music that encouraged them to be more feminine.

“They [the Greeks] had a complicated system,” Justus said. “They believed if men listen to the wrong kind of music, they would be too tender and effeminate to make war.”

Justus knows from experience the importance of music to people. He said while music is not a necessity or life, it is not a luxury either.

“Music is a part of what it is to be human. We really can’t classify it as something we need to live or something that we really can do without. But I think we can’t stop our musical urges or needs than we can change the color of our eyes,” he said, “and there has never been a civilization on earth that has not had music.”

And Summer Florida, a nursing sophomore, said she wouldn’t be able to live without music.

“I listen to music almost all day, everyday,” she said, gesturing to her iPod and headphones in her lap. “It helps me clear my head.”

Justus said students use music for exercising, driving, worship, waking up and going to sleep, and to escape from the silence of a person’s mind.

“If there’s something playing on the surface, then we really don’t have to face that aloneness that so many people feel so much of the time,” he said.

Justus said music is mostly employed for its sensual uses, but most people only hear the music, they really don’t listen to it.

“It goes in one ear and out the other,” Justus said.

Listening is an active activity, and requires that a person listen to the melody of a song rather than just the lyrics, Justus said. He said people should ask themselves why their music makes them feel the way it does.

“There is a special device that composers use. Music that moves forward makes us think happy thoughts,” Justus said, as he played a lively tune on his guitar. He continued his demonstration by playing a more melancholy tune, followed by one that sounded like homesickness.

“The way composers arrange chords has an affect on what we think,” he said, “and I think we don’t listen enough to the structure of music, and we don’t pay enough attention to the details of music.”

In contrast, Florida listens to music based on the mood she’s in.

“If I’m sad, I’ll listen to sad songs, and they’ll make me more sad. If I’m really hyper, I’ll listen to music that will pump me up, and get me excited,” she said.

Computer science sophomore Cameron Troester makes playlists based on his moods. He has one made up of sad songs, with artists such as Passenger, Ron Paul, and the Great Big World. Troester also has a playlist for when he’s in a good mood, with Ellie Goulding and Calvin Harris on it.

“Music paints a picture. When events are happening in my life, sometimes I think of a song that fits that event,” he said.

Justus said people tend to listen more to the lyrics of song rather than the sound, because they want to identify with the music.

“People want to feel that the music is saying something to them. Maybe they want to know that they’re not alone, but in a way that they’re the only ones who are suffering the way they’re suffering,” he said.