Conflicting Emotions in Music

Conflicting Emotions in Music

Is it possible to feel more than one thing at a time? 

When we are little, we feel emotions keenly and in one direction. You cannot mistake joy in the eyes of a child. In fact, joy will touch every part of their body. They will open their eyes wide, jump up and down and shout with excitement. Equally, disappointment is a whole body, all encompassing, experience. Eyes will scrunch, fists will curl, bodies will stiffen and there will be a full on, meltdown of a rage in three dimensional technicolour!

When we ‘grow up’, feelings are a different kettle of fish. They are more integrated and (sometimes!) more controlled. But it is indeed possible to feel excited, happy and sad and scared at the same time. 

I live in Melbourne, Australia. We are tentatively coming out of the longest lockdown caused by Covid-19 the world has seen. It’s been so long I’m not sure I actually believe we will actually open up on Friday. Surely someone is going to swoop in at the last minute and tell me I need to continue the dual, punishing work of supporting my own children while simultaneously trying to teach my high school students? Particularly, my beautiful, heart filled Class of 2021 Year 12s!! You guys – if any of you are reading – are worthy of my deep and lasting respect for what you have been through and are about to come out of. 

My dual emotions are of excitement and terror. Excitement at the potential of seeing dear friends again, worry about the virus. Sadness for all that has been lost for my students and my children, happiness at the thought that music – real music – is closer. 

So there are the feels everywhere at the moment.

If we were allowed to go to an airport (that mythical place!) to see a friend off, we might feel elated for them and simultaneously be falling apart inside that they are leaving us. 

My rather long winded point is that it IS indeed possible as a grown up to feel more than one thing at a time. Music allows us to feel this as well. In my minds eye, (or as one of my dear year eights drew for me, in my mind’s EAR!) there was a piece from the soundtrack for the movie Memphis Belle that did this perfectly, but I’ve been unable to find it. This is the next example that came to mind: A piece with more than one emotion happening AT THE SAME TIME – two over the top of each other. 

Listen to some of the perfect set up techniques for creating an ominous character:

  • Low strings
  • Repetitive, relentless ostinato
  • Use of regular semiquaver rhythms
  • Use of a small range at low pitch which rises and falls
  • Staccato, staccato articulation
  • Use of space between phrases where the drone or the melodic accompanying motif is starkly in the foreground
  • Continual restatement of the drone

This is overlaid by some of the techniques for creating tranquility

  • Legato lines
  • Arpeggiated melody 
  • Descending main melodic line in the oboe – note how this balances out the initial rising melodic lines. 
  • The choice of a solo oboe itself
  • Bright, clear tone colours due to high pitch and relaxed technique
  • More mellow tone colours at a comfortable mid register (accompanying strings)
  • Longer note values

To me, this is a good example of how music can say more than one thing at a time. If you have any other examples that you feel demonstrates this, please let me know:

jenny AT listeningbeyondhearing DOT com DOT au

May your reentry into the unlocked be successful. 


I do also want to say on a personal note – be kind to yourself and to others. Try to be a little more patient than usual and listen a little more deeply. We’ve shared quite an ordeal in our own isolated ways. While it sounds like the most wonderful thing in the world to party like it’s 1999, there is a lot of trauma that has been felt and we all need space to feel and process that.