New ideas on music and sadness

ESCOM 2015: Positive sadness, negative sadness and live music

Jessica Crich (Music and Wellbeing PhD student) shares her thoughts and experiences from ESCOM 2015, the Ninth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.

Presentation focus: Garrido, Eerola, Garrido, & Davidson. Measuring sadness as a response to music in live performance

Music and sadness was a popular research topic at ESCOM 2015. In particular Sandra Garrido spoke about her collaboratory research exploring the variety of experiences of sadness people have in response to a live music situation and how these experiences may be induced, influenced and measured.

Garrido et al., surveyed the sadness experiences of audience members at a performance given by the Durham Singers (2014) to commemorate World War II entitled ‘We were left behind’.


The programme, designed to explore expressions of grief, melancholy and sadness in response to war, interspersed movements of William Byrd’s Mass for five voices with movements from Bach’s solo cello suite, and was performed in an authentic cathedral setting.


Aesthetic features of the music were found to generate positive sadness responses amongst audience members, such as feelings of tenderness and being uplifted.

Lambardos Emmanuel - The Virgin of Tenderness

Lambardos Emmanuel – The Virgin of Tenderness

Negative sadness responses amongst audience members, such as tension, were found in response to music context, personal memories influenced by the music or an individual’s prior negative mood.

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Garrido’s take home message emphasised that our sadness responses to music are more complex than we realise, with our music sadness responses having a chiefly positive as well as negative dimension.

This leads to new, unanswered questions surrounding how future research may account for the great variety of emotional experiences people have in response to music.

Indeed, Garrido et al’s study left me questioning the emotional responses to live music experienced by people with dementia and their supporting stakeholders.

  • How could we begin to document and understand the feelings, musical features, and individual factors that generate emotional responses within this particular cohort?
  • What are the positive and negative emotional dimensions surrounding the impact of live music use in dementia care for all involved stakeholders?

Big future thoughts and questions from ESCOM 2015!