Music: Auditory or Evolutionary? And How Does The Olfactory Relate?

Yesterday I read an article in Discover magazine about the origin of music.  Archaeologists found a 40,000 year old bone with holes poked down the length of it and a tapered mouth piece, looking much like a cave-man made flute.  This, of course leads to the question of how long ago music actually began.  The article mentions that scientists have pinpointed when our ancestors “vocal structures” gained the ability to carry a tune.  I never really gave this a thought, but I guess there must be a difference in my vocal cords and my dog’s, although it would be very entertaining if she answered back my constant chatter at her (HA!).  But that’s another topic.

The author then questions what, if any, role has music played (wink, wink) on humans’ social evolution.  Psychologist, Steven Pinker, from Harvard University answers that he thinks music is just “auditory cheesecake.”  I would love to hear more about his opinion, but this is all the short article provides.  The author also provides a counter-argument from another psychologist, saying that music provided a social cohesion much like care-giving/grooming did.

I’m not going to claim to know anything in any sort of scientific way on this subject, although I could research the topic and I’m sure disprove Steven Pinker’s dismissive attitude about music, but I will provide my lil’ ole opinion.  I feel sorry for Mr. Pinker if he hasn’t experienced music with all 5 senses and been able to express those feelings to his closest family and friends.  To me, music is one of the most sensual experiences us humans can have and we use our senses to relate to each other.  Like Stevie Wonder says “I can feel it all over.”  Yes Sir, amen!  That’s why music, so many times, is described as an experience.  How can this psychologist not give credence to music being an essential part of our relationships with one another?

Music has shaped me, in part, into who I am.  So many of my experiences are centered around music.  Ever notice how a song will come on the radio and it reminds you of someone or a memory you have with someone?  That connection alone proves that music connects you with others.  Also, so many of my relationships with family and friends are music-based.  For example, my husband’s cousin, who I’ve known for decades, we don’t have a whole lot in common, but we can sit around an Echo and call out songs and listen and talk about them for hours, much to the boredom of others around us.  99% of my memories with him consist of music involved in some way.  My relationships with my brothers are also heavily music-based.  I did grow up in a house where music was constantly played, whether on the stereo (when’s the last time we used that word) or through guitar-playing.  It is embedded in me.  I know that’s not the same experience everyone has, but even those people I know that grew up without music being played so much have the same memories and sensations for music.  Bottom line: music is how many humans connect with one another, and any psychologist would agree that our connection with others is essential to our existence.  Therefore, music must have played a role in our social evolution.

To me, hearing and smelling are closely related because of the memories they conjure up.  When I smell watermelon I am instantly taken back to the summer ’98 when I sprayed that Watermelon Bath & Body Works spray all over me at all times.  When I smell A&D ointment I can smell and feel my newborn kids sleeping on my chest.  The olfactory sense has a way of really taking us back.  If I could hear a song while having an aromatic memory, it would be like travelling back in time!  Smelling watermelon and playing Fiona Apple for example, or smelling A&D and hearing a John Mayer song, now that would recreate some moments!

How cool would it be to incorporate the feelings and memories of music and our sense of smell with aromatherapy?  For example a “Summer Playlist” while diffusing Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood and Citrus Fresh, or Ginger and Jasmine while listening to “The White Album!”  The memories you have for certain music are different than mine, but you get the idea.  Take those memories or associations and play with them with different scents.  If a certain band reminds you of your childhood, you can diffuse a scent that also reminds you of those times.  Or you can be inspired by a location, like diffusing Cedarwood and Frankincense to recreate the rainy smell of Seattle and then listen to grunge.  It would be like a journey through the senses.  I’m so on it!  I’ll post an update when I’ve really experimented.

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