Art by Autumn Hardwick
The newest season of the series displays the transformative effects of music on the psyche. “Stranger Things” showrunners, the Duffer brothers, tasked the series’ music supervisor, Nora Felder, with finding a song that “resonated with the intense, wide-ranging emotional experiences Max was undergoing,” according to a Variety article. Felder settled on “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” for its deep-sounding chords and interpretive lyrics. She understood the words to be a “desperate cry of love” in Max’s painful loneliness, following the loss of her brother, Billy.
Music has an undeniably powerful impact, said Pierre Tang, music professor and director of instrumental ensembles. Tang teaches a first-year seminar called “Performing and Consuming Music Together.” He said music is a way to bring people of all backgrounds together.
“Especially in American culture, where there is a high degree of individualism, it is more likely for American adults to experience loneliness as compared to other places,” Tang said.
After recognizing this issue of loneliness in American culture, Tang decided to look for solutions and found that music as a means for community building is extremely effective. Tang said those who are not musicians themselves can still participate in the industry. For example, a language student could help with pronunciations, or a marketing student could design social media advertising for a concert.
“Stranger Things” season 4 features a large soundtrack with many 80’s hits, such as “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” by Kate Bush. The show skyrocketed Bush’s 1985 song to the top of the Billboard Global 200 chart this summer.
“It [music] allows students to have agency, and I learned quickly that in a group of musicians, when members are given agency, the sense of belonging is highly increased,” Tang said.
Beyond the benefits of music making, Tang said music consumption has emotional and social benefits.
“Music is so cathartic in a way that it can help express certain types of negative or positive emotion, in a way that is shared,” Tang said. “Music removes a lot of barriers and misunderstandings between people.”
Music impacts the individual on a personal level through the altering of one’s mood, said Ryan Board, professor of music history and director of choral activities. He said music has been influential for centuries and certain sounds and rhythms can emulate specific emotions.
“We have known for a long, long time that music affects mood,” Board said. “Even in Christian history, the church has sort of had a love-hate relationship with music because they understood it was incredibly powerful.”
Because music affects mood so much, people in the early Roman Catholic church worried that music used for evil would be detrimental to a person’s mind. However, when used for good, they believed music would elevate a person to the highest spiritual level, Board said. So, the church attempted to define what kinds of notes make “pleasant” and “nice” sounds.
“Early on they said it’s things that are consonant, like a fourth or a fifth on the piano or an octave, it is the idea that when you have proportional relationships in the vibrations, that, somehow, that hits the ears and makes a person go, ‘That’s nice,'” Board said.
The church created the idea of musical modes, such as major minor, Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian. These modes each produce distinct sounds that portray a certain feeling to the listener. Even now, these fundamental music theory ideas are used in music-making, Board said.
“Today, the majority of the music we listen to is in major and minor, the two most popular modes,” Board said. “A lot of your sad songs, your love ballads, your breakup songs, those kinds of things are in minor keys. Whereas, a lot of your upbeat, uptempo, happy songs are in major keys.”
Along with the modes used in music, rhythm and tempo play just as big of a role in the mood a song can create, Board said. In addition, listening to a pounding bass or a smooth pulse has subconscious effects on the body.
Music stimulates the brain in relation to tempo. Slow music is seen to relax the body, whereas faster rhythms can increase ventilation, blood pressure, heart rate, mid‐cerebral artery flow velocity and baroreflex, according to research in the National Library of Medicine.
“It affects your physiology and your psyche,” Board said. “Your heartbeat increases, you can become agitated, or you can become excited. It has this incredible power over us.”
For those looking to learn more on the subject, Board said he recommends the book, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” by neurologist Oliver Sacks, for an exploration of music’s mental effects.
“He [Sacks] talks a lot about how, when you’re listening to music, it activates certain parts of the brain,” Board said. “Then, as soon as you’re engaged in the actual process of making it, it crosses all the different hemispheres and parts of the brain. It’s hard to find that activity level in just about anything else.”
Music not only improves mood through emotional release but also boosts the brain’s performance, said Gloria Walters, a licensed psychologist and therapist at the Counseling Center.
“I’ve seen research around older adults, and what that showed was, if they listened to up-tempo music, it improved their processing speed, and if they listened to slower music, it tended to help improve their memory,” Walters said. “Music scientifically has been proven to improve cognitive performance.”
In addition to processing speed and memory, Walters said certain types of music, such as classical music, help with sleep quality. Other types of music, such as up-tempo, heart-pumping songs, can improve motivation, and instrumental music can improve performance.
“Stranger Things” shows music’s power on its characters through the breaking of Vecna’s curse. The benefits of music are far from fictional, and its effects on the brain extend into multiple areas: mood, memory, emotional release and agency. Therefore, there are many ways one can channel their inner Max and take advantage of all kinds of music.
Below is a list of songs that students said would save them from the Upside Down:
“Anything is Possible” by Bethel & Dante Bowe Dacia Hannel, senior
“I Ain’t Worried” by One Republic TimbreLee Vick, sophomore
“Come With Me” by Surfaces Eva Toler, senior
“Need to Know” by Doja Cat Ava Moreno, sophomore
“Beat of the Music” by Brett Elderidge Delaney Ermshar, junior
“Jireh” by Maverick City Music Xaree Reyes, sophomore
“Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj Anna Brinkerhoff, first-year
“865” by Morgan Wallen Neil Mehta, sophomore
“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys Emily Ralph, first-year
“High note” by GAWVI Evan Pallis, sophomore
“Axel F” by Crazy Frog Laurel Allen, sophomore
“Without You” by Lana Del Rey Noelle Cottingham, sophomore
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