Going to Concerts and Experiencing Live Music Can Make Us Healthier & Happier, a New Psychology Study Confirms

Image by Niels Epting, via Flickr Commons

It can sometimes seem like so much qualitative science confirms what we already know through experience and folk wisdom. But that does not make such research redundant. Instead, it sets the stage for more detailed investigations into specific causes and effects, and can lead to more refined understanding of general phenomena. For example, “a new study out of Australia,” reports CNN, “confirms what we probably already knew,” by concluding that if you want to be happier, you should get out more.

Specifically, you should get out to concerts and music festivals and dance your you-know-what off. The Australian researchers found that “people who actively engaged with music through dancing and attending events like concerts and musicals reported a higher level of subjective wellbeing.” The March, 2017 study, cheekily titled “If You’re Happy and You Know It: Music Engagement and Subjective Wellbeing,” defines the latter phrase as “the scientific psychological term for general mood ‘happiness,’ which is positive, stable, and consistent over time.”


Subjective wellbeing (SWB), although a self-reported measure, helps psychologists identify effective therapies for depression and mood disorders. Engaging meaningfully with music is one of them, and one needn’t be a musician to reap the benefits. While “producing music and performing encourage self-exploration, emotional expression, self-esteem and confidence,” the study’s authors write, interacting with music as a fan is also “associated with higher mood when considered in terms of activation and valence."

Simply consuming recorded music, however, will not have the same benefits. While “recent technological advances” and streaming services have “increased the availability of and accessibility to music… engaging with music extends beyond just passive listening.” In large part, the active participation in a music scene—as part of a fan community or festival audience, for example—shows positive outcomes because of the “social component of music engagement.” Listening by oneself “may improve physical health and emotional wellbeing.” Listening “in the company of others is associated with stronger positive experiences.”

As the site Live for Live Music puts it, “live music universally lowers stress levelsincreases social bonds while decreasing levels of pain, and can even physiologically cause people to get “skin-gasms.” And if that’s not reason enough to get tickets to see your favs, I don't know what is. One would also hope the study makes a convincing case for funding live music as a mental health initiative. Unless you live in a city with lots of free concerts, the expense of such events can be prohibitive. At least in Australia, the researchers note, “attending musical events is costly, and may be a privilege afforded to those who earn a higher income.”

Susan Perry at Minnpost sums up a few other limitations of the study, such as its lack of data on frequency of attendance, and that it does not “differentiate between people who are musically talented and those who aren’t.” Nonetheless, one particular finding should have you shedding inhibitions to increase your SWB. “Dancers,” Perry summarizes, were “more likely than non-dancers to be happy,” as were those who sing along.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Light Show on The Empire State Building Gets Synced to the Dead’s Live Performance of “Touch of Grey” (6/24/2017)

Some of my favorite things come together...

Last night, Dead & Company played a huge show at Citi Field in New York City. And when they performed "Touch of Grey" during their encore, a light show on the Empire State Building got underway, completely synchronized with the song. According to Jam Band, the lights were "controlled by veteran lighting designer Marc Brickman, who has worked on tour with Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Hans Zimmer and many more." Enjoy the visual display above. And see the scene on the stage below:

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via Live for Music

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Herbie Hancock to Teach His First Online Course on Jazz

MasterClass is on fire these days. In recent months, the new online course provider has announced the development of online courses taught by leading figures in their fields. And certainly some names you'll recognize: Dr. Jane Goodall on the EnvironmentDavid Mamet on Dramatic WritingSteve Martin on ComedyAaron Sorkin on Screenwriting, Gordon Ramsay on Cooking, Christina Aguilera on Singing, and Werner Herzog on Filmmaking. Now add this to the list: Herbie Hancock on Jazz.

Writes MasterClass:

Herbie Hancock’s jazz career started in his family’s living room, listening to his favorite records and trying to play along. Now, he’s one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Join Herbie at the piano as he shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony.

The course won't get started until this fall, but you can pre-enroll now. Priced at $90, the course will feature:

  • 20+ video lessons where Herbie teaches you how to "improvise, compose, and develop your own sound."
  • 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances.
  • A downloadable class workbook.
  • And the chance to have the 14-time Grammy winner critique your work.

Apparently this will be the first time Hancock has ever taught a course online.

Learn more about Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz here. And find more MasterClass courses here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Langston Hughes Creates a List of His 100 Favorite Jazz Recordings: Hear 80+ of Them in a Big Playlist

Image by The Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

“Langston Hughes was never far from jazz,” writes Rebecca Cross at the NEA’s Art Works Blog. “He listened to it at nightclubs, collaborated with musicians from Monk to Mingus, often held readings accompanied by jazz combos, and even wrote a children’s book called The First Book of Jazz.” The 1955 book is a striking visual artifact, with illustrations by Cliff Roberts made to resemble jazz album covers of the period. Though written in simple prose, it has much to recommend it to adults, despite its somewhat forced—literally—upbeat tone. “The book is very patriotic,” we noted in an earlier post, “a fact dictated by Hughes’ recent [1953] appearance before Senator McCarthy’s Subcommittee, which exonerated him on the condition that he renounce his earlier sympathies for the Communist Party and get with a patriotic program.”

Earlier statements on music had been more candid and close to the heart: “jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America,” Hughes wrote in a 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”—“the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.”


The sweet bitterness of these sentiments may lie further beneath the surface thirty years later in The First Book of Jazz, but the children’s introduction to that thoroughly original African-American form made it clear. “For Hughes,” as Cross writes, “jazz was a way of life,” even when life was constrained by red scare repression.

Hughes invites his readers, of all ages, to share his passion, not only through his careful history and explanations of key jazz elements, but also through a list of recommendations in an appendix: “100 of My Favorite Recordings of Jazz, Blues, Folk Songs, and Jazz-Influenced Performances.” (View them in a larger format here: Page 1 - Page 2.) In the playlist below, you can hear 81 of Hughes’ selections: classic New Orleans jazz from Louis Armstrong, blues from Bessie Smith, “jazz-influenced” classical from George Gershwin, bebop from Thelonious Monk, swing from Count Basie, guitar gospel from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and much more from Sonny Terry, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Parker, Memphis Minnie, Billie Holiday, and oh so many more artists who moved the Harlem Renaissance poet to put “jazz into words” as he wrote in “Jazz as Communication,” an essay published the following year. If you need Spotify's free software, download it here.

For Hughes, jazz was a broad category that embraced all black American music—not only the blues, ragtime, and swing but also, by the mid-fifties, rock and roll, which he believed, would “no doubt be washed back half forgotten into the sea of jazz” in years to come. But whatever the future held for jazz, Hughes had no doubt it would be “what you call pregnant,” and as fertile as its past.

“Potential papas and mamas of tomorrow’s jazz are all known,” he concludes in his 1956 essay. “But THE papa and THE mama—maybe both—are anonymous. But the child will communicate. Jazz is a heartbeat—its heartbeat is yours. You will tell me about its perspectives when you get ready.” Just above, see Hughes recite the poem “Weary Blues” with jazz band accompaniment in a CBC appearance from 1958.

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Langston Hughes Presents the History of Jazz in an Illustrated Children’s Book (1955)

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Willie Nelson & Ray Charles Sing a Moving Duet “Seven Spanish Angels”: A Beautiful Bridge That Crosses Musical & Racial Divides

Having grown up in Georgia surrounded by blues, gospel, and country music—and having studied the classical composers when he was learning piano—Ray Charles was bound to become a polymath of musical genres. He is often credited with creating soul music, but a less remembered but equally important part of his career was recording one of the first major crossover records, 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The record execs at ABC-Paramount understandably thought it would be career suicide, but Charles, who had a contract that gave him creative control (and ownership of his master tapes), insisted. It went on to be both a commercial and critical success, creating racial and genre bridges during the Civil Rights Movement.

So the above video of Willie Nelson performing a duet with Charles was not the oddity that it may first seem. The two recorded “Seven Spanish Angels” for the former’s Half Nelson album of duets, and the single would go on to be the most successful of Charles' country releases, reaching the top of the country charts in 1985.


The song has become a favorite country cover, and judging by the YouTube comments is a favorite at funerals, seeing that it's a tale of an outlaw couple pledging their love and going out shootin’. (That is, it’s good for honoring devoted couples, not for criminal parents. But we’re not here to judge.)

The 1984 TV special from which this excerpt came was filmed at the Austin Opry House, and featured Charles on five more songs with Nelson, including “Georgia on My Mind” and “I Can't Stop Loving You.”

And although he didn’t write “Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael did), Charles’ name is synonymous with the well-loved soul number. That being said, Willie Nelson’s cover of the song reached higher in the charts in 1978, a kind of thank you to Charles for his country work.

After this 1984 video, the two would duet nine years later for Willie Nelson’s 60th birthday celebration where they once again sang “Seven Spanish Angels,” a testament to their long friendship.

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Animated Interview: The Great Ray Charles on Being Himself and Singing True

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Photos Into Space So That Aliens Could Understand Human Civilization (Even After We’re Gone)

A popular thought experiment asks us to imagine an advanced alien species arriving on Earth, not in an H.G. Wells-style invasion, but as advanced, bemused, and benevolent observers. “Wouldn’t they be appalled,” we wonder, “shocked, confused at how backward we are?” It’s a purely rhetorical device—the secular equivalent of taking a “god’s eye view” of human folly. Few people seriously entertain the possibility in polite company. Unless they work at NASA or the SETI program.

In 1977, upon the launching of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, a committee working under Carl Sagan produced the so-called “Golden Records,” actual phonographic LPs made of copper containing “a collection of sounds and images,” writes Joss Fong at Vox, “that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth.” While they weren’t preparing for a visitation on Earth, they did—relying not on wishful thinking but on the controversial Drake Equation—fully expect that other technological civilizations might well exist in the cosmos, and assumed a likelihood we might encounter one, at least via remote.


Sagan tasked himself with compiling what he called a “bottle” in “the cosmic ocean,” and something of a time capsule of humanity. Over a year’s time, Sagan and his team collected 116 images and diagrams, natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages, printed messages, and musical selections from around the world--things that would communicate to aliens what our human civilization is essentially all about. The images were encoded onto the records in black and white (you can see them all in the Vox video above in color). The audio, which you can play in its entirety below, was etched into the surface of the record. On the cover were etched a series of pictographic instructions for how to play and decode its contents. (Scroll over the interactive image at the top to see each symbol explained.)

Fong outlines those contents, writing, “any aliens who come across the Golden Record are in for a treat.” That is, if they are able to make sense of it and don’t find us horribly backward. Among the audio selections are greetings from then-UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whale songs, Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F, Senegalese percussion, Aborigine songs, Peruvian panpipes and drums, Navajo chant, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” (playing in the Vox video), more Bach, Beethoven, and “Johnny B. Goode.” Challenged over including “adolescent” rock and roll, Sagan replied, “there are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” The Beatles reportedly wanted to contribute “Here Comes the Sun,” but their record company wouldn’t allow it, presumably fearing copyright infringement from aliens.

Also contained in the spacefaring archive is a message from then-president Jimmy Carter, who writes optimistically, “We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.” The messages on Voyagers 1 and 2, Carter forecasts, are “likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.” The team chose not to include images of war and human cruelty.

We only have a few years left to find out whether either Voyager will encounter other beings. “Incredibly,” writes Fong, the probes “are still communicating with Earth—they aren’t expected to lose power until the 2020s.” It seems even more incredible, forty years later, when we consider their primitive technology: “an 8-track memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket.”

The Voyagers were not the first probes sent to interstellar space. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, each containing a Sagan-designed aluminum plaque with a few simple messages and depictions of a nude man and woman, an addition that scandalized some puritanical critics. NASA has since lost touch with both Pioneers, but you may recall that in 2006, the agency launched the New Horizons probe, which passed by Pluto in 2015 and should reach interstellar space in another thirty years.

Perhaps due to the lack of the departed Sagan’s involvement, the latest “bottle” contains no introductions. But there is time to upload some, and one of the Golden Record team members, Jon Lomberg, wants to do just that, sending a crowdsourced “message to the stars.” Lomberg’s New Horizon’s Message Initiative is a “global project that brings the people of the world together to speak as one.” The limitations of analog technology have made the Golden Record selections seem quite narrow from our data-saturated point of view. The new message might contain almost anything we can imagine. Visit the project's site to sign the petition, donate, and consider, just what would you want an alien civilization to hear, see, and understand about the best of humanity circa 2017?

via Ezra Klein/Vox

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The 10 Most Depressing Radiohead Songs According to Data Science: Hear the Songs That Ranked Highest in a Researcher’s “Gloom Index”

One of my favorite music-themed comedy sketches of recent years features a support group of Radiohead fans flummoxed and disappointed by the band’s post-Ok Computer output. The scenario trades on the perplexity that met Radiohead's abrupt change of musical direction with the revolutionary Kid A as well as on the fact that Radiohead fans tend toward, well… if not PTSD or severe mood disorders, at least a heightened propensity for generalized depression.

“Much of Radiohead’s music is undeniably sad,” writes Analytics Specialist and Radiohead fan Charlie Thompson. Rather than play something “less depressing,” however, as many an acquaintance has asked him over the years, Thompson decided “to quantify that sadness, concluding in a data-driven determination of their most depressing song.”


Now, purely subjectively, I’d place “How to Disappear Completely” in the top spot, followed closely by Amnesia’s “Pyramid Song.” But my own associations with these songs are personal and perhaps somewhat arbitrary. I might make a case for them based on lyrical interpretations, musical arrangement, and instrumentation. But the argument would still largely depend on matters of taste and acculturation.

Thompson, on the other hand, believes in “quantifying sentiment.” To that end, he created a “gloom index,” which he used to measure each song in the band’s catalog. Rather than listening to them all, one after another, he relied on data from two online services, first pulling “detailed audio statistics” from Spotify’s Web API. One metric in particular, called “valence,” measures a song’s “positivity.” These scores provide an index “of how sad a song sounds from a musical perspective.” (It’s not entirely clear what the criteria are for these scores).

Next, Thompson used the Genius Lyrics API to examine “lyrical density,” specifically the concentration of “sad words” in any given song. To combine these two measures, he leaned on an analysis by a fellow data scientist and blogger, Myles Harrison. You can see his resulting formula for the “Gloom Index” above, and if you understand the programing language R, you can see examples of his analysis at his blog, RCharlie. (Read a less data-laden summary of Thompson’s study at the analytics blog Revolutions.) Thompson also plotted sadness by album, in the interactive graph further up.

So, which song rated highest on the “Gloom Scale”? Well, it’s “True Love Waits” from their most recent album A Moon Shaped Pool (hear a live acoustic version up above.). It’s a damned sad song, I’ll grant, as are the nine runners-up, all of which you can hear in the YouTube and Spotify playlists above). “Pyramid Song” appears at number 5, but “How to Disappear Completely” doesn’t even rank in the top ten. From a purely subjective standpoint, this makes me suspicious of the whole operation. But you tell us, readers, what do you think of Thompson's experiment in “quantifying sentiment” in music?

Here's the top 10:

1. True Love Waits
2. Give Up The Ghost
3. Motion Picture Soundtrack
4. Let Down
5. Pyramid Song
6. Exit Music (For a Film)
7. Dollars & Cents
8. High And Dry
9. Tinker Tailor Soldier ...
10. Videotape

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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