Date of Degree
Music -Language -Emotion and the Brain, Music Cognition
This thesis will examine a conceptual album that I composed, an exploration of the interaction between music and language and its effects on human emotions. I will attempt to demonstrate—in this thesis and in my composition—that when music and language come together in specific combinations, a possibility opens up, not simply for the creation of emotion but for something much more profound: personal transformation. This transformation takes place mentally (through language), and physically/molecularly/bodily (through music). It is, in essence, a kind of healing, what I have come to call “sonic nourishment.”
Imperial Butterfly follows one character, a woman (whom I call the “narrator”), through this process of transformation; a musical and emotional odyssey. This odyssey is my main character’s journey toward wholeness, which develops in the course of nine songs and nine corresponding emotions. The focus of this analysis is printed scores and sound recordings (rather than the aural experience of the listener, which is largely subjective). The dissection of the written score has helped me to unlock hidden pathways through which the narrator had to travel, and has also helped me pinpoint how the interaction between the musical components and the narrative shaped the journey of the narrator. In developing this study, I have intimately explored the areas of narrative, theme, harmony, and melody—how they influence emotional states, and the way in which they bring forth self-transformation. As a result, I have laid a foundation for a much deeper entry into the still-unmapped body of research in music cognition. Yet, because of the magnitude of this study, I will only concentrate on the structural framework of the music and the narrative in my composition, Imperial Butterfly, without addressing the acoustic or neurological connections between music and language.
Please note that my first hypothesis was to investigate whether music does indeed support narrative, and in the process, create the experience of an emotional state. My findings were that music can open doorways to understanding, and that there is an inner mechanism connecting these two domains through their acoustic properties that is reinforced inside the body with the help of the nervous system. These conclusions became further evident as the musical sequence was composed before I set out to investigate the relationship between music, language, and healing, having been inspired by my own personal experience.
Because of this last fact, many questions will arise regarding the science behind my thesis. What I would like to emphasize, however, is that the experience came first. The explanation, the attempt to understand, now follows.
Rothschild, Dagmar, "Imperial Butterfly" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.