Ode to Joy

TECH THURSDAY

A report earlier this week was music to my ears: Researchers in Maryland have discovered that the body physically responds to music. The study was reported by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore researchers during the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in New Orleans this week.

The study’s results appear on the university’s Web site.

Music serves as my rock, my foundation, my steady ship. But in the past say two years or so, it’s become something else: my sanctuary. When I need to get away from everything, I’ve learned that hearing Claude Debussy is taking a plane ride into tranquility.

Turns out, I’m not the only one. The study showed that when people listened to music they perceived as pleasant, it caused tissue in the inner lining of their blood vessels to dilate (or expand) and increase blood flow. A 2005 study found a similar response to laughter.

“We had previously demonstrated that positive emotions, such as laughter, were good for vascular health. So, a logical question was whether other emotions, such as those evoked by music, have a similar effect,” says principal investigator Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The relaxation of the blood vessel lining was considerable — up to 26 percent. Ironically, when the study subjects listened to music they perceived as unpleasant (in this case, heavy metal), their blood vessels’ inner lining was constricted by up to 6 percent.

In a personal way, this was vindication for my reliance on music. Turns out I’m not just loafing when I sit in bed listening to Pascal Rouge’s Suite Bergamasque. Or, when I’m cleaning the house listening to Madonna (honestly, that’s my favorite de-stressor).

In my senior college year, I took several upper-level French literature courses, and became heavily involved with our campus’s Anti-Apartheid movement. My days were packed and I routinely closed down the Undergraduate Library at 2 a.m., returning the next day at 8 a.m.

My one joy every day was listening to Joe Jackson’s Night and Day. Every afternoon when I took a break, I’d play it straight through. Day side to Night side.

I have that album on my iPod, with the same scratch on “Slow Song” that’s been there for 26 years. Those songs give me intense joy, and I always thought Joe Jackson’s masterpiece somehow made me feel … better.

Now I have the science to prove it.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday

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