Listening and a Rumor of Empathy Out of the Spirit of Music

Join me and my special guest musician, teacher, and composer Mischa Zupko for a conversation about music, the emotions, empathy, and community on Wednesday June 3rd at noon Chicago time on


Mischa Zupko, Composer

VoiceAmerica Empowerment Radio. Click here for live show or replay shortly thereafter. Maestro Zupko is an accomplished music teacher and composer.

Empathy is all about listening, and what better way to take one’s listening up a level or two than to engage in listening to music? In a wide ranging conversation, we will consider how to take our listening in new directions and get a good stretch of our comfort zone, meeting. Music stimulates us to intense emotions, both high and low. Music sets the mood in movies. It stimulates buying behavior in ads. It relieves depression. It gets people dancing. Music can stimulate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move. Stroke patients can sing words that they cannot otherwise say. Music is therapeutic. Music is a powerful force for bringing people together into community.

A thought for the day: The world is embodied music. Modern neuroscience supports the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: Music takes up more space in the brain than language does – being human means being musical. Join me for an amazing conversation with musician, teacher, and composer Mischa Zupko.

A couple of more thoughts. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the Birth of Tragedy out of the spirit of music. Music ultimately becomes articulate and generates myths. Arthur Schopenhauer said that music expressed directly the ultimate driving force of the world, The Will, and was no mere representation, but the thing itself. Schopenhauer is considered a pessimist because he related to the suffering of life. However, the one exception was the release we humans experienced through the experience of music as an aesthetic experience. Theodor Adorno quotes Schoenberg that music says only what can be said only through music. Leonard Bernstein, one of the great educators of non-musicians in listening to music, compares the deep structure of language in Noam Chomsky’s transformation grammar and the deep structure of music, in which even Wagner’s Liebestod [love death] in Tristan contains literally the same musical meaning as Berlioz’s love theme from Romeo and Juliet. Thus, Nietzsche quotes Schopenhauer:

Music, therefore, if regarded as an expression of the world, is in the highest degree a universal language [….] All possible efforts, excitements, and manifestation of will, all that goes on in the heart of man and that reason includes in the wide, negative concept of feeling, may be expressed by the infinite number of possible melodies, but always in the universal, in the mere form, without the material, always according to the thing-in-itself, not the phenomenon, the inmost soul, as it were, of the phenomenon without the bod. This deep relation which music has to the true nature of all things also explains the fact that suitable music play to any scene, action, event, or surrounding seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it [….] For music is distinguished from all the other arts by the fat that it is not a copy of the phenomenon, or, more accurately, of the adequate objectivity of the will, bt an immediate copy of the will itself, and therefor complements everything physical in the world and every phenomenon by representing what is metaphysical, the thing in itself. We might, therefore, just as well call the world embodied music … [A. Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation, I: 309 cited in Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Section 16: 101].

Image of piano keys courtesy of Domdeen at

(c) Lou Agosta, Ph.D. and The Chicago Empathy Project

Categories: music empathy composition

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  1. Music, Emotions, Empathy, and Community • SJS
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