Heart and Mind in Music

the heart and mind of music

In music one must think with the heart and feel with the brain. ~George Szell

Heart and Mind in MusicPerhaps best known for “building the Cleveland Orchestra into a world-class ensemble”George Szell (1897-1970) was a composer and conductor. I wonder if he had any idea that so many people would share his quote about the heart and mind of music. It does seem to be a popular quote on social media and the web.

In spite of a search of the online and written sources about Szell’s life, I’ve found no indication of where or when he said “In music one must…”

It is a metaphorical and “inspirational” quote, so I’ll give you some of my own take on it. I do wonder why we find it to be so inspiring.

Heart and Mind

Obviously, you don’t literally feel with your heart. Though the poets might want you to think otherwise, emotions are a full-body experience. Some of the ways you can verify this is the goosebumps when you get scared or excited, sweaty palms when you’re anxious, and so on. Yet, clearly the idea that feelings are heart-centered is a common idea or metaphor.

Thinking with the brain? Sure. Unless you want to expand the idea and ask why we don’t more often consider how much influence sensations and emotions have on thinking. You collect experiences in your memory and when you look at them as a whole, you see them as simply “experience”. And is that memory all in your brain? Or do you sometimes notice that you have “body memories”? I know that I do. This is why practices like InterPlay make so much sense when they integrate our body/mind/spirit experiences into one unified whole.

All Mixed Up In Music

The “feelings come from the heart” and “thoughts come from the mind” thing is already a bit of a jumble. Emotions and thoughts can be identified with or influenced by any number of body parts. Along comes Szell and turns even these clichés on their head: “think with the heart and feel with the brain.” And he does this all in the context of music. What better place could there be: when you listen to music, sensations come up. Some may be based on that body memory thing. Others may just be the desire to relax, tap your foot, or dance. You name it. (I’d love to hear how music does or doesn’t affect you in the comments.)

You’ll have to decide if Szell’s quote inspires you and if it does, why. Here’s what it does for me: I already have this idea that matching up heart/emotions and mind/thoughts is oversimplifying things. So when I read this quote, I am reminded that music — both in listening and playing — is about all of me. Not just a certain organ or a certain fascia or muscle or sinew or bone. For me, music is one of the ultimate whole-body experiences. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more.

Playful blessings,
Stan

7 comments

  1. Music for me has always been so emotional (a very sad childhood memory is triggered in my brain) that was umbedded in my heart. This quote; “feeling with your brain”, and your comments are actually Neroscience to me, because it seems it could possibly shift some of the flood of emotions to other parts of my body so I may not feel overwhelmed (to tears) while singing. Will observe next time I sing in public….
    Beyond grateful*
    Muse for now for sure!!!
    Joyful blessings,
    Cali T. Rossen

    1. So glad you found this post and found it useful. I can imagine that singing is this way for you and many people, so thanks for being willing to share your experience here.

      Best wishes and hope to hear how your singing develops!
      Stan

  2. A great quote, Stan, and a great column. You could argue heart and mind are right and left brains; certainly the songwriters/musicians I interviewed in my book spoke of both.

    1. Thanks, Patrick! Always honored when you stop by. I appreciate your work so much and even more now that I’m reading “Committed“. I’d be done reading it, but I seem to be (not) writing a book called “Over-Committed”. 🙂

      I have heard people use the left/right brain model, but I find it often leads to even more splits in the way we think about our human experience. I’m focused on integrative ways of seeing how we process, create, and live. We’ll see if I can do better in the 2nd half of life…

      Playful blessings,
      Stan

  3. Stan, I agree that if I really sink into music when I’m listening, it’s a whole-body experience. And each song can trigger different feelings. When I listen to Trisha Yearwood sing “The Song Remembers When,” I react much differently than when I hear Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It really is fascinating.

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