The allure of the musically inclined

Image Credit: Mẫnn Quang via Pexels

By Gregor Stratford

Ever found yourself blushing as the street busker sends you a smile, raising immediate distaste for your now cashless pockets. Wishing to know who is laying down that mean guitar riff, carried through the wall from the flat next door? Or why everyone is so obsessed with drummers? Well, whether we care to admit it or not, there is something about a musical soul intrinsically desirable.

Even as someone who cannot stand public displays of talent generally, perhaps jealously, I have still caught myself being infatuated with girls, found on YouTube, delivering vocal covers with reimagined piano accompaniments. Musicians like this make themselves vulnerable by sharing such a fundamental aspect of themselves: taking time and effort, carrying with it pride and emotion, in an almost intimate experience. This is confidence, rooted in talent. It is desirable – it has to be. In my case, I also happened to like the songs already. This detail seems a large part of my devotion. 

Could it then be a matter of signalling taste? We all have our type; blondes, brunettes, gingers. The same applies to musicians and their music. If we adore the genre of music someone creates or artists they aspire to emulate, a foundation of common interest is established immediately in the listener. The same applies between musicians according to a small study found people who practised music saw other musicians as more attractive than non-musicians. Funnily enough, the same research revealed that private musicians (bedroom suite bands) also scored much higher than ones under the public eye (perhaps suggesting I am not alone in my envy and that too much confidence is killing the vibe; perhaps people are not keen on sharing their lover’s talent?)

Regardless, a habitual reason for liking someone based on ‘they like what I like’ arguably applies to almost any trait and does not explain the full extent of attraction we can feel to the musically inclined in particular. So, what could it then be? Some argue the fascination and infatuation is engrained much deeper, an aspect of our physiology that is producing the “serenade fantasy.”

As is the case with most human behaviours the reductionist Darwinians have looked into it. Drawing on the insights of menstrual women, Benjamin D. Charlton, who found that women at the peak of their fertility rated fictitious male composers of intricate and complex pieces more attractive than those with weaker musicianship. Imagining the scenario in light of historical context, I would think that for early man to build such expressive facets, amongst the relentless archaic struggle for dear life, it would send a clear sign you had the ‘right stuff.’ (No prizes for guessing the music of choice during these early stone ages – yes, Rock).

Is that really it then, the mystery dispelled? Are all musicians just our genetic superiors? Ultimately, I think this scientific judgement fails to capture the unique case of each musical individual. For them music is but one string to their guitar, whose melody speaks to us all differently. It is the way they can open themselves up to express emotions while remaining enigmatic in purpose and draw us all in.

It may also just be that hidden fantasy residing in some of us, yearning for fulfilment, strong enough to sound a falsetto interest from the receiver. That moment of knowing – while others only dream – as passion spills out of a performer, that the song is for you.

**This story was originally published as part of our digital Freshers 2021 edition on 20/09/2021. Read the full edition here.**