The Wildcat Voice

How does holiday music affect the mind?

James Calipetro, Staff Writer

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It is that time of time of year again; the grocery stores and malls start playing holiday music, and radio stations abandon pop hits for Christmas classics. Some people brighten when they hear it while others groan.  Where do you stand?

Does holiday music make people crazy?

According to a study about mental health, listening to holiday music can actually damage someone’s ability to focus. In an interview with Sky News psychologist Linda Blair said, “People working in the shops at Christmas have to [tune out] Christmas music, because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else.” This can result in less productivity and cause people forget simple things. This can result in a time wasted and even cause injury on the job.

The brain is triggered by art and music and can cause a good reaction or a bad one in the brain, depending on memories of the past. According to Dr. Rhonda Freeman, “When the brain makes these associations with something very positive and pleasurable, the rewards system is being activated [which triggers] a number of chemicals including dopamine.”

But, too much dopamine can be bad according to the British Journal of Nursing. “Increased dopamine in the limbic system is linked to suspicion and paranoia and withdrawal from social situations.”

When’s the right time to bust out the holiday tunes?

One of the reasons commonly cited for hating holiday music is that it starts too soon and rushes the holidays.  For example, Hobby Lobby had its holiday decorations out in early October alongside Halloween and Thanksgiving stuff.  Most agree that’s too soon. Mr. Face says, “I like it, but only after Thanksgiving. Some songs get old after a while.”

In a survey of 35 staff members at middle school, 59% said that they prefer to start hearing holiday music around or just after Thanksgiving. 25% of staff said that they’d like to wait a bit longer, until mid-December.

Only one staff member, Mrs. Golem, wanted to hear Christmas music all year long,  and only Mr. Carlson stated he never wanted to hear it. He said, “I don’t enjoy holiday music, in part because I’ve heard the songs so many times.” He added, “I’ve often wondered why there are so many Christmas songs but not really any songs for any other holiday. How awesome would it be to have a good Presidents’ Day song to play every February?”

Are some songs more annoying than others?

According to The Washington Post the most-liked Christmas songs are Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (also the fave of Mrs. Trentanelli), “The Christmas Song” (loved by Mrs. Bright,) and “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which did not make our staff’s list of top picks.

The surveyed Mayfield staff preferred non-religious songs with 67% of staff choosing a secular tune and only 33% choosing religious songs for their favorites. The most common MMS staff favorites were “O Holy Night” (beloved by Mrs. Hannan, Mr. Paydo, and Mr. Sheppard) and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” (picked by Mrs. McLaughlin, Mrs. Vinborg, and Mrs. McGarry).

Commonly-hated Christmas songs, according to The Washington Post research were  “Jingle Bells,”  “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Our staff agreed with the latter. Eight voters listed “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” as the most annoying holiday song . In second place among the staff was “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” with six picks.

The Washington Post survey found that the number one most-hated Christmas tune is  “Jingle Bells,” as performed by the Singing Dogs– “A bunch of dogs woofing out the familiar tune, one bark at a time.” Mrs. Willis agreed and listed this as the most annoying song.

For some staff, certain songs actually make them mad.  Mrs. Saunders says she has to turn off the radio immediately if Trans-Siberian Orchestra comes on. Mr. Catullo explained that despite his respect for The Beatles, the opening of “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” actually gives him feelings of rage. “That stupid keyboard is unnerving!” he says.  Mrs. Halsey and Mr. Carlson shared the feeling, also listing this Paul McCartney song as the one they’d rather never hear again.

Even though there are certain songs that get under people’s skin, most agreed that holiday music brings up good memories. Dr. Bright commented, “Holiday music puts me in the mood for hot cocoa, peppermint, and snow.” Mr. Yasenosky shared a similar comment: “While sometimes annoying, I think that our brain associates these songs with the festive time of year. When hearing them (even if I don’t want to) my mood is a bit lighter because I start thinking of family, food, Christmas, presents, New Year’s, and snow.”  Mrs. Bean said, “I have always enjoyed the holiday season, because I feel like people are a little kinder, a little happier. The music just puts me in that mood, too.”

Want to get all those holiday feelings in one song? A musicologist,  Dr. Joe Bennett of Boston, examined  over 200 Christmas songs to determine the key to the perfect Christmas song. Using the most popular tempo of 4/4 time and 115 beats per minute, the most common key of C major, the most common words, he composed “Love’s Just Not For Christmas.”  It includes sleigh bells and a choir–both shown to increase people’s moods–and has the word “Christmas” 21 times–another thing his research showed made people happy.

Check it out. Will it be your new favorite?

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How does holiday music affect the mind?