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Organ music helps reduce christmas stress: research

Wednesday, 12 December 2001

The Christmas season is often a stressful time of year for many people, but Adelaide University researchers may have uncovered a solution: organ music.

A team from the University's Department of General Practice found organ music significantly reduced a range of negative emotions commonly experienced during Christmas, such as tension, depression, anger and fatigue.

Team leader Professor John Marley says many studies had already shown the effect music has on emotions, ranging from a pleasant, relaxed mood to intense emotions on hearing particularly beautiful music, and that the Adelaide University team wanted to take these studies a step further.

"We wanted to see if music could have another important application, treating stressed adults in the pre-Christmas period," he says.

"Organ music is usually played on the occasion of important life events such as weddings and funerals. For the many people who attend Christmas church services, the experience would be incomplete without the resounding tones of the organ.

"Associations with tradition, and the instrument's rich tonal range and volume, are part of what gives the organ its ability to produce powerful emotional responses."

In the study, a group of non-musical men and women aged from 22 to 71 listened to organ music in St Theodore's Anglican Church in Adelaide, with their moods profiled before and after hearing a recital (works included Pachelbel's famous Canon in D, Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary, and Handel's Air from the Water Music).

"Listeners experienced significant reductions in tension, depression, anger and fatigue," Professor Marley says. "However, we didn't find any significant changes in listeners' levels of vigour, or confusion."

Another component of the study, published in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia (v.175) , was comparing listeners' reactions to hearing both traditional pipe organ and "pipeless" digital organs.

"Music purists argue that pipe organs sound much better than pipeless organs, which, if this is the case, should mean people's emotions are affected more by pipe organs," Professor Marley says.

"But we found that our subjects, who weren't told which organ they were listening to, experienced the same emotion swings for both instruments - so the argument that real pipes are essential for non- musicians to experience beneficial emotional responses to music should now be laid to rest."

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