Tuesday, July 11, 2006

There's a Commotion in the Ocean...

I'm sure you all know what it's like to get a song stuck in your head. It's even worse when you can't remember the whole song and just have one or two lines repeating over and over in your head. Usually they're songs that you heard on the radio and (at least it seems to me) listening to the whole song helps to get it out of your head. Like you're able to let the song out of your head by listening to it. Well, today I have a song stuck in my head. Not a song I heard on the radio, much worse than that. It's a song that the kids at Art Camp (where I teach theater in the summers) will be singing as part of their performance on Thursday for the end of session one (of three) of camp.

The theme of this session of AC is "Under the Sea" and the music/stories/dance teacher at camp made up a song for the kids to sing at the end of the play. I'm not sure if the song has a name but here are the lyrics:

There's a commotion under the ocean
There's a party under the sea
There's a commotion under the ocean
And you're invited so come with me.

There's a commotion under the ocean
There's a party under the sea
There's a commotion under the ocean
And you're invited so come with me (oh, come with me).

Yeah, simple lyrics and I can definitely run through the whole song in my head (and outloud if I'm not worried about the people around me thinking I'm crazy) but no matter what I do I can't get it out of my head! It's starting to drive me a little crazy so I did a little search on why songs get stuck in our heads. Here's something I found.

Having songs "stuck in your head" happens to nearly all of us. Ninety-nine percent of study respondents said they have experienced the phenomenon. Almost 50 percent say that it occurs frequently.

Kellaris, an expert on the influences of music on consumers, reported preliminary results on his work last month at the Society for Consumer Psychology's winter conference. He has a sample of 1,000 respondents to work with in analyzing his theory that certain songs create a sort of "cognitive itch" - the mental equivalent of an itchy back.

"It is like the familiar pattern of itching and scratching," Kellaris says. "The only way to 'scratch' a cognitive itch is to rehearse the responsible tune mentally. The process may start involuntarily, as the brain detects an incongruity or something 'exceptional' in the musical stimulus. The ensuing mental repetition may exacerbate the 'itch,' such that the mental rehearsal becomes largely involuntary, and the individual feels trapped in a cycle or feedback loop."

Kellaris' research seeks to identify characteristics of music that make them memorable. His preliminary work points in three directions he believes play a role:

Repetition: One theme song that respondents reported as getting stuck in their heads often was "Mission: Impossible." Kellaris was not surprised. "A repeated phrase, motif or sequence might be suggestive of the very act of repetition itself, such that the brain echoes the pattern automatically as the musical information is processed," he says.

Musical simplicity: Simpler songs appear more likely to make your brain itch. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of getting Barney's "I Love You, You Love Me" song stuck can attest to that. Generally, children's songs are more prone to getting stuck than classical music, Kellaris says.

Incongruity: When a song does something unexpected, it can also spark a cognitive itch. Examples include the irregular time signatures of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" or the song "America" from West Side Story. Unpredictable melodic patterns or an unexpectedly articulated individual note can have the same impact.

Interesting, but unfortunately it doesn't really help me figure out how to get the song out of my head. Ho hum...I guess I'll just have to hope it somehow decides to leave...but somehow I have a feeling it will be in my head until at least Thursday when the play is and after which I won't have to hear it again and won't have as much of a chance of getting it re-stuck in my head.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I wonder how many people only see some of their best friends for 3 or 4 days a year. I wonder how many people count among their best, closest friends people they've never seen in person (and some they've never even seen in pictures). People they only talk to online or very occasionally on the phone. I don't consider it weird because it's a good way to socialize when you're chronically ill. But they're not just any online friends, they are friends who understand just what it's like to deal with chronic illnesses. What it's like to go through life losing friends, not being able to get out to meet new people or socialize with old friends, to spend a great deal of your time in bed. When you live in a world where the phrase "You look great!" makes you groan because, although usually it's a GOOD thing to look good, looking good only means that we are even less understood, you count your blessings when you have people who completely understand what it's like to wish you looked as bad as you feel sometimes so people could really see what's going on on the inside.

I feel blessed and lucky to have quite a few great friends that I have only just met in person but have been talking to online for months (or longer in some cases). Some I met last year but only saw for a long weekend and then, although there were intentions to get together during the year, a year went by without being able to sit in the same room as them and just have a goofy evening together. I wish we all lived closer to each other or that we could all fly to a get together every month and spend a weekend together. But the country is big and plane tickets are expensive so we'll just have to settle for talking to each other online through e-mails and instant messenger.

Friendships built upon online chats late at night and shared medical experiences can be deep and long lasting. We have come together, met one another because we have shared experiences that most of us would not wish upon anyone else, but the simple fact that we have met because of what we have been through makes it easier to handle. Without having gone through painful and/or uncomfortable tests, without having spent days unable to stand for very long and each time we try to we end up horizontal again (one way or another), without spending time feeling alone and isolated we wouldn't have found each other. We wouldn't have these friends that stand by us during the bad times and share our laughter and smiles in the good times (or just laugh because it's 2am and we're way beyond tired). These people that I call my friends are different from me in many ways but we share more than we could ever put into words.