I do. Or get chills.
Getting teary and having the hair on the back of your neck stand up are two physical manifestations of your emotional reaction. Of the two, the former tends to be more about uncomfortable feelings. But either way, you emerge from the experience feeling glad for it. I can’t think of an occasion where I got misty from music and thought “what terrible piece of music!”
When you get an emotional reaction from the music, it means two things:
- The musicmaker poured their emotions into the performance of the music, and
- You the audience are capable of feeling compatible emotions and are projecting them in the listening experience.
Of the two, the former is oft discussed, but the latter is where things get interesting. It’s true that the more the musicmakers pour themselves onto music, the more likely the audience will feel something in reaction. But if the audience isn’t capable of feeling compatible emotions, they won’t fell them, no matter how good the musicmakers are at expressing their emotions.
By capable of feeling I’m talking about emotional muscle. It needs to be developed in order for one to comfortably feel strong emotions. But to develop it, one has to have a history of feeling it without resisting.
For example, anger is a difficult feeling for me. I can’t think of a time when I got mad without resisting or holding back. It’s as if I never give myself permission to unleash it. Thus when I do feel it, it’s an awkward, uncomfortable experience. I may be idealizing it but in my imagination a pure, unadulterated anger burst also has a freeing sensation. The knowing that I can “let it rip” at something or someone is a foreign concept in my mind.
My guess is that most of us have these weak spots in our emotional palette. Some feelings that you just can’t allow yourself to fully feel for one reason or another. It’s not that you can’t feel them — quite the contrary, having an undeveloped emotional muscle for a particular emotion means you have a bigger backlog of that feeling stored in your subconscious and body.
So when you listen to music, you bring to the table your entire emotional arsenal. Some feelings you can feel freely even with little backlog, and when the music presents you something compatible you resonate with it effortlessly. Other feelings are more difficult for you to feel, but has a bigger backlog. When the music meets you where you are by doing heavier lifting, the dam breaks and you feel some of that baggage brought out.
This is why tears come out. We cry because a particular emotion has an uncommon charge. Music is like a safe set of weights to help us grow our emotional muscle. We cry when strong emotions come up that we are not used to. That feeling is often one of the so-called “negative” emotions — anger, sadness, loneliness, and so on. But I find that I’m also not used to feeling intense joy and happiness. My emotional palette is filled with those that I deem are acceptable to feel in day-to-day life. The fact that my muscles are weak in the areas of joy and happiness say something about me, but I doubt I’m alone or even uncommon.
So I turn to music to help me feel emotions that I have a hard time feeling otherwise. And when it triggers the stuff in my baggage to spill out, I cry. It’s a good cry when it happens because of music. I may be crying but I love that experience. What isn’t there to love about letting go a piece of your baggages that you no longer need? What isn’t there to love about having a piece of art validate and acknowledge your most personal feelings? I absolutely love it, and I’d gladly do it everyday.
I can perfectly appreciate any piece of music that doesn’t make me cry, but those that do are extra special to me. And when I write songs, I dream of it giving someone a good cry.
Do you cry listening to music? And if so, which songs make you cry? Let me know.