In the opening line of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, lovelorn Orsino attempts to cure his frustrated heart and quench his desire for Countess Olivia by asking for the music to play on. In the same way that overeating makes us lose our appetite for food, music is referred to here as being so powerful that it could be a substitute for love, helping Orsino lose his appetite for the Countess. 400 years later, is this entanglement still alive? Are love and music still beautifully conflated and intertwined ? Very much so.
Love is in the air: with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we explore how love and music intertwine in our brain chemistry, our dating habits and our commitment ceremonies. With approximately three quarters of all country music songs, and an even higher proportion of pop music focusing on love affairs and their fallout, music and romance is clearly a match made in heaven. Whether you are happily single, partnered up or looking for love this year, music is sure to be involved.
Love is a drug, and so is music
When we listen to music that excites us, our brains release dopamine, the love drug. It’s the same chemical reward system being triggered when we listen to an incendiary key change as when we feel a love connection.
This powerful response is happening on an instinctual level, below conscious thought. It’s part of the primitive core of the brain, associated with wanting, motivation, focus and craving. Our brain reacts to the stimuli of love, drugs and incredible music much the same, so if there’s no one special in your list this Valentine’s Day, get your dopamine hit from your favourite records.
Fall in love on a first date
Love songs can bring us together, illuminating common truths and experiences across divides. Music can be great for forming connections in the early stages of dating, offering us the classic first date question of ‘what kind of music do you like?’ as a way to share insight into ourselves, our tastes and values.
New research even suggests that background music may help us fall in love, so keep music choices in mind next time you’re picking date spots. The study from Aoyama Gakuin University’s Psychology Department investigated music’s impact on first encounters, and whether it made the test subjects more likely to form relationships and fall in love. According to their findings, background music enhanced the participants’ sense of intimacy and attraction.
Music’s ability to provide a common focus and cover up awkward silences may take pressure off nervous daters and allow them to feel more comfortable. Background music might also alter people’s behaviour and make them more charming during conversation. The proven ability of music to alter people’s moods could also be a factor, helping them feel happier and more open to connection in the experience.
In this instance, the research team chose the music. The effects may be even stronger if the daters themselves pick the playlist, so start sorting through your record collection now to set the perfect scene for romance.
When picking music for a romantic setting, think about low tones: humans have evolved to find low voices sexy, and music that imitates this can evoke similar feelings.
As Dr Sandra Garrido of University of Western Sydney explains, ‘Like peacock feathers, music is used by humans to attract mates and we’ve been writing love songs for centuries. When people are feeling sexy their voices are generally lower pitched, and music with a low pitch and a low but rhythmic tempo comes across as romantic.’ A useful tip for when you’re compiling the all-important mixtape or playlist to impress your date.
The first wedding march
And once you’re in it for the long haul, music is a key part of taking your relationship to the next level if you decided to get married. If you’re keeping things traditional, you are likely to walk down the aisle to Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’, written in 1842 for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was first performed at the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, to Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1858.
This is thought to be the first time that a bridal party had processed in to music, rather than having music only at the reception. The princess loved opera music so much that she broke with convention, starting a tradition that is well entrenched today.
While popular with loved up couples, ‘Wedding March’ can be controversial – its root in the Shakespeare play places it in the context of Pagan gods, magic, and fairies (and donkeys), making it an unpopular choice in Roman Catholic churches. So make sure to understand the context of your romantic gesture before you go ahead!
The Sound of Single
If you’re far off from picking the perfect wedding music, we hear you. Being single on Valentine’s day feels a little meh normally, but add in a global pandemic, lockdowns, and 0 chances of meeting someone, and you’re really, really over Valentine’s Day.
Take Orsino’s recommendation, and let music fill your heart instead. Here is The Sound of singles in their feelings: Valentine’s Day isolation edition. Play on.