Hypersensitive to a Sound?

I attended a concert at the Phoenix Symphony over the weekend. Several times a year I attend either a classical or pops concert. I’m no expert on music, but I have pretty specific likes. Show tunes (from Oklahoma to Hamilton), mid-century standards (40s-70s), bluegrass, very standard jazz, and the Romantics (Mendelssohn, Chopin, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Holst, and Vaughn Williams). I also love marches and waltzes. And Adele. k.d. lang. So my tastes are specific and even a little sentimental (especially for such an extreme INTJ, but my theory is that is why . . . ).

It seemed to me that my musical dislikes–as well as those of most people–are not as passionate as musical likes. After all, music I don’t like just leaves me cold. Misogynistic rap, for instance. I just don’t care about it. B.J. Thomas. Beyoncé. [Shrugs shoulders].

But this performance at the symphony proved that I could have an almost violent aversion to certain music. If I can, maybe other people do, too?

I picked this concert because it featured Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. This is a Romantic symphonic suite based on the story of A Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) where the Sultan puts each wife to death after spending one night in bed with her. Scheherazade saves her own life by telling a new story each night and ending on a cliff hanger.  I can tell you that MY night ended well because it was a STUNNING concert. Teddy Abrams, the guest conductor, was marvelous, and the piece so gorgeous. Our concertmaster, Steven Moeckel (such a rock star), played the violin solos.  I kept catching myself grinning like a fool throughout.

Our symphony always puts the featured piece as the second act portion of the concert. Before the intermission we heard two pieces. The first was, I dunno, something short by Stravinsky. But the larger piece featured a fabulous Israeli cellist playing Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, op .107.

As I suggested earlier, I had a violent reaction to this piece.  As in I despised it. Anxiety filled my body until I was tensed so tight I couldn’t move a toe. I wanted to run out of there screaming. You think nails on a chalkboard is bad? This was that times 1000. It screeched and sawed right through me. The audience loved the piece.

At first I thought it was Shostakovich, but I didn’t remember having that reaction before. Then it hit me that although violins (and fiddles!) are my favorite instrument, my limited musical knowledge hasn’t brought me near cello solos too often. What a wicked, nasty instrument, I thought. So I checked out some Youtube videos of cello playing. Nope, it was not the cello itself. Not only were some of those solos pretty, I’m pretty sure I have heard them before.

I found this piece played by someone else on Youtube. Ick. It’s definitely the piece and what it does to that poor instrument that caused my distress.

This might be part of my Highly Sensitive Person schtick or it could be my ADHD. Both those conditions can create a sensitivity to fabrics, etc., so why not certain sounds?

It’s important that you take away that the audience went wild for the concert. I mean WILD. Phoenix symphony audiences are always smart and responsive, but they were screaming for Abrams and the symphony at the end.

I wonder if anybody else felt physically assaulted by the middle piece?



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Arizona, Art and Music, Inspiration, Writing

41 responses to “Hypersensitive to a Sound?

  1. Music is such a powerful force, isn’t it? I can think of few things that evoke such a visceral and emotional reaction for us. And sometimes, as you found out with this, it isn’t always a pleasant reaction!

    • So powerful. I know I’ve mentioned recently (but was it a post or in comments or on someone else’s blog haha?) that I don’t play music much in the house. It’s just too powerful for me to get anything else done!

  2. Whoa.
    I cannot keep listening to that. I hated the first two minutes, got some reprieve, but by 17, there is no way I could make it through another half. Got a bit of a headache brewing by my right eye now. I’m not trapped in a concert hall, I’m in my own living room.
    That’s a lot of A string in a cello piece. Too sharp and high for my brain to find it cello-y. I loooove cello music. I do not like this piece at all. I’m not familiar with Shostakovich and hope the rest are not like that.
    Love Scheherazade, every time, every way.
    I’m HSP too, though. Did you read my piece about velvet? I’ll leave the link.


    • Just read your piece. Exactly! Just horrible. Don’t get me started on that clothing tag problem. You are so smart to know what is wrong with the cello piece (the A string). Interesting with the sharp and high. I am not fond of “sharp” and thin soprano voices. Before the concert Abrams talked about all 3 pieces. He said Shostakovich was a composer who was able to walk a fine line and keep his head when Russia became USSR. His music was “somehow” approved by the Party. Hahahaha. Maybe they considered it anti-art.

  3. If that was playing on the radio, I’d change the station.

    • Thank you!!!! But you should have seen the audience. What weirdos. I turned to hubby when it was over for sympathy and he was grinning and on his feet clapping. I whispered, “Shostakovich can kiss my grits.” He looked at me like I was crazy . . . .

  4. Mr. S CAN BE bright and loud. We had a pianist last night from Phoenix. He was relentlessly banging the piano. Name was Craig Daum. He is about 50 and very skinny. He wore lots of rhinestones and knew Liberace. His show was weird but also interesting due to the weirdness. He ran music videos on a big screen and played along with them. The videos were silent. He collapsed R A P S o d y in Blue into 3 minutes. Etc. He’s staying down the hall in the Royal Suite. (That misspelled word kept changing into rapist. ((

  5. I generally adore Shostakovich, but I’m listening to the cello concerto now (thanks for the link!) and it is NOT a comfortable thing to hear. He clearly channeled a lot of anxiety through this piece. It is technically brilliant, though, and incredibly demanding to play – wow! What a performance! The video you linked to is very well edited, and I’m glad the soloist chose to wear a dress that allows us to see her arms and shoulders – what a workout! I can understand your strong reaction to the piece, and I’m sorry you were trapped in the middle of a concert hall while experiencing that. 🙁

  6. I’ve heard of this before. I love music. Played classical piano. Husband plays rock on his guitar. There is very little we don’t like but every once in a while I really don’t like something. It’s like it disturbs my karma or something. So sorry you had to sit through it.

  7. Dear Luanne: I can relate! I am a huge fan of Santa Fe Opera and every season, along with Mozart, Puccini, Donazetti and such composers, they feature one or two contemporary productions. Often the new pieces are world premieres and one is subjected to the atonal, quirky, dissonant movements and a lack of lovely arias. Attending such an opera can be as pleasant as a dentist’s drilling. Not exactly a cultural treat, but rather an endurance test. On the other hand, I do want to expand my horizons. The opera, last summer, presented a production based on the novel Cold Mountain. I re-read the book, went to a weekend of seminars about the opera, and ended up finding it a good experience. However, it was definitely NOT user-friendly, instead took hours of study and preparation to enjoy. Or maybe the operative word should be to understand.

  8. When I first began listening to the video, I had the same reaction I did when I first heard an atonal piece: a sigh of finally! Music I love! But the freneticism of this piece got to me fairly quickly. I listen to classical music in the car and sometimes turn it off when I realize the tension of the piece is creating anxiety in me. 🙂

  9. I don’t love it, but I don’t have the visceral reaction you’ve had. I think it’s very disturbing–the dissonance–but I imagine that is the point. He wrote it post WWII and in Stalinist USSR. I read that part of the theme is from a movie where Soviet prisoners are marched to their death by Nazis. It is technically demanding, and I can where people would appreciate that. I normally love cello music–did you ever see that episode of the West Wing where Donna is dying to see Yo Yo Ma?

    I had a recording of Scheherazade that I used to play when I was a child. I loved it. I still do. 🙂

  10. I could listen to the whole video. The first part was okay, but it did get wildly intense toward the middle. I love violins and fiddles too, but never quite understood the cello for anything except a little base. I did notice the muscles in that chicks arms. She must do some heavy practicing or is very athletic. Her passion show through in how she plays.

  11. I used to love the tales of Scheherazade, enjoyed the musical when I went to a symphony one time, also played on my parents stereo. Not sure if Leonard Bernstein conducted this or not, but I do enjoy it. Too bad about the higher pitched, dissonant sound of this piece. I appreciated Merril, who explained the reason for the noisy cacophony way it sounds. Just not my cup of tea. There are a few songs which grate on my nerves, but overall most of them are pleasant from many genres. I am not crazy about old country twanging songs where both the instrument and the singer seem to sound a little nasaly and “twangy.” Could you have gotten up as if you had to sneeze and leave for this song? I have pushed through rows when something like bathroom needs, coughing “fit” or a sneeze which would have been disruptive seemed reasonable to say, “Excuse me, excuse me” or “Pardon me, pardon me.” Once out in the hall, getting a drink of water and just breathing would have helped, Luanne. Hugs, Robin

  12. I tried to listen to that, Luanne, but had to stop about one minute in. I’m hypersensitive to music as well and believe (you may think I’m crazy) that it has the ability to alter the structure of our brainwaves, causing us to be relaxed and happy, sad, or downright furious. I often listen to 432 Htz music when I’m feeling a little stressed and it’s really soothing. Apparently there is science behind the power of certain sound notes and Htz, but I haven’t really looked into that yet – although I did read somewhere that terror suspects are locked in rooms with loud music playing in an attempt to ‘break’ them. Very interesting post :D.

  13. Not my favorite piece, either. I did listen to all of it, but by 3/4 of the way through I was really tired or it. It didn’t speak to me, or what it had to say I didn’t find especially interesting, although it was intense.

  14. I’ve never heard it before. I loved it!

  15. I hardly ever have a shrugging reaction to music. I either really like it or I intensely hate it–It’s one of the few black and white areas in my personality. I find myself getting incredibly angry when I hear bad pop songs or incredibly tense when I’m forced to listen to extremely atonal or loud classical stuff. My son and I could have long ridiculous conversations about why we hated a particular piece of music. LOL.

    My kids got used to me slapping their hands away from the radio controls and taking over as I drove ( swerved recklessly) them to school when certain songs came on. Back then they hated me for it, but now they remember it as funny.

  16. I can understand how that feeling is quite possible. I get it when I hear some TV ads, and I have felt it when I’ve heard some pieces of music. But thankfully, most classical music is beautiful.

    • Especially when it is truly classical, as in standing the test of time! Oh, those Liberty Mutual commercials are doing me in.

  17. That’s my reaction any time Carly Simon comes on the radio …

  18. Ian

    On the whole, I like Shostakovich, but you need to keep in mind that as a 20th century Russian composer, his style can be a bit atonal and bombastic at times. I looked up this cello concerto on Wikipedia and found the following description of the theme in the analysis section:
    “It is also related to a theme from the composer’s score for the 1948 film The Young Guard, which illustrates a group of Soviet soldiers being marched to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.” Now there’s a clue to your reaction, Luanne!

  19. I’ll take your word for it. I’m not going to listen because I KNOW I’m hypersensitive to sound. I’m in a prolonged battle at work with a new “noise” reduction system that pipes white noise over our heads. It sounds like extra loud ventilation but to me it sounds like I’m sitting on an airplane waiting for take-off. Or like I’m being waterboarded with sound. It’s awful.

  20. Interesting, Luanne. I am latching on to the experience as opposed to the piece of music, since things like this occur every so often for me, either something visual or auditory. You are an INTJ? I am an ENFP (borderline E/I). Don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but having acute senses provides some difficult experiences sometimes. A sound, a note, a certain pitch, a certain place, light, or color can bother me A LOT. I can hardly listen to the piano compositions of Franz Lizst, and sometimes Beethoven sonatas can drive me crazy, even if I love them. Always seem to respond well to Mozart and Haydn and most things from the high classical period. But I never know how I will react.

    • The borderline E/I makes sense for you, I think. So funny that my TJ is the opposite of your FP. On my test results, though, I am completely T and N and zero/almost zero F and S. What that means is that my F and S are out of whack, and I can get very sentimental, etc., which seems odd for an INTJ. But intellectually I am very INTJ, if that makes sense. Yes yes yes re certain things that bother a lot. And it doesn’t always seem rational to others, in my experience. What you talk about with classical music makes me think that there is a reason I like the Romantics because the music is very soothing to me. Lots of folk music, dance, and nature lurking underneath and no rigid patterns, although variations on themes. I find all that very comforting.

  21. I got through about 2 minutes 39 seconds. It wasn’t awful for me (as far I went), but I wouldn’t have wanted to be trapped in a concert seat with no place to go (and no way to turn off the music). I was happy to click Pause and turn away. Yes, some music, even “good” music can be too much for a HSP. I just tell myself that some music, like wine, is an acquired taste. My husband likes jazz and he can “groove” to some musicians that would just send me up the wall 😉
    Thinking of it another way (and without reading other comments so maybe somebody already brought this up), when it comes to classical music, isn’t there a story within the music? Classical music seems designed to provoke and sometimes that provocation is pleasant and appealing, sometimes not. For me, that piece on YouTube seemed designed to provoke anxiety, discomfort, which can be okay for a few minutes, but I can’t imagine 30 minutes of it. For us HSPs, it’s sensory overload.

    • And that is THAT. Yes! What you said about even good music can be too much. How I can’t listen to music while writing and don’t want it on in the house very much, etc. It’s just overpowering to me. Thank you for bringing that up!
      Yes, apparently the story behind this music according to commenters is that Russian prisoners were being marched to their death by Nazis. YIKES.

  22. Okay, with that kind of story, no wonder the music was hard (for some people) to bear.

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  24. The music directors of symphonies have taken to a practice that drives away some (perhaps much) of their potential audience. To hold their head up in meetings with peers, a music director must (this is a surmise) boast of how they are fighting old-fogeyism and are promoting post-classical composers by salting programs of well-liked music with painful music, as if a musical hair-shirt would be good for our souls. We no longer go to concerts that contain known or likely hair-shirts. As a result, we go to fewer concerts, which is worse for the musicians and for the concert hall. Its just a guess, but the enthusiastic clapping for painful music might be by people who want to show – to themselves and to others – how with-it and open minded they are.

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