Adele, Celine, Whitney - Melodies that Make Us Cry. Why?

Adele, Celine, Whitney - Melodies that Make Us Cry. Why?

Marcia Forbes PhD

Written Feb. 22, 2012

Celine Loved by All
After Celine’s outstanding performance in Jamaica, I wanted to write something profound to explain why this almost-diminutive Canadian singer has won the hearts of so many Jamaicans, including the hearts of ‘real bad man’, ‘gun man’ and ‘Dons’. From as far back as 2004 during data collection for research work on the influence of music videos on teen sexuality it was obvious to me that Celine touched people in a special way. Typically, as selectors work to get the dance going, they turn to Celine. This has been so for years and continues to be so. No wonder that after her five years in Vegas not even Sir Elton John could replace her and the very charismatic and gracious Celine had to be recalled.

Jazzing it Up

In participant observer, ethnographer mode, I walked the grounds of Jamaica Jazz observing and engaging people in conversations in hope of unearthing ‘a new truth’. Nothing. Nothing to explain why some Jamaicans went as far as to accept short-terms loans from at least one financial entity to pay for attendance at Jazz, primarily to see Celine. Nothing to explain why one camera assistant from deep inner-city Kingston said Celine is his ‘gospel music’ on Sundays. Nothing to explain why Celine brought tears to the eyes of so many grown men, women too (but we expect that) and a marriage proposal during her performance.

Mind you, Miss Dion played it to the hilt! Oozing sex in every dress-change, she belted out “When you touch me like this, And when you hold me like that”, “You were my strength when I was weak….I'm everything I am, because you love me”. The massive crowd, estimated at about 20,000, the largest ever for Jazz, sang along verbatim. The wonders of technology were revealed as Andrea Bocelli, Italian tenor and classical crossover artist, blind from the age of twelve, joined Celine on stage in a pre-recorded performance delivered via big screen. The execution was PERFECT! Celine and Andrea in synch in perfectly timed harmony and delivery – she on stage and he on screen, a fantastic mix of the actual and the virtual. “I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go….Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way”. I too was crying, but why? What was it about this music?

Adele Brings Tears, So too Whitney
Weeks earlier, as I listened to Adele she too brought tears to my eyes. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you”. Adele’s music touched me in such a powerful way that I pulled off the road to immerse myself in the melodies and lyrics. Weeks later, it was Whitney. Her death brought a cornucopia of tear-jerkers, Whitney’s songs as well as thoughts of a life that has gone too soon. What was it about the music of these women – Celine, Whitney and Adele? Their music brings you to tears so easily. Then I read the Wall Street Journal. Eureka! There is an actual explanation, a scientific explanation. Finally I could begin to understand why so many of us love Celine so much, apart from the fact of her no-fuss, no-drama behaviour, unlike the Devilish Diva Diana Ross at a previous Jamaica Jazz.

The Appoggiastura
Written by Michaeleen Doucleff and titled “Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker - Why does Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ make everyone cry? Science has found the formula”, this article was quite an eye-opener. I want to give credit where it is due and not to misquote, so, here’s exactly what Doucleff had to say,
“Twenty years ago, the British psychologist John Sloboda conducted a simple experiment. He asked music lovers to identify passages of songs that reliably set off a physical reaction, such as tears or goose bumps. Participants identified 20 tear-triggering passages, and when Dr. Sloboda analyzed their properties, a trend emerged: 18 contained a musical device called an "appoggiatura".

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. "This generates tension in the listener", said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. "When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.”

All hail the appoggiatura that touches the sweet spot in us as humans and brings us such tearful pleasure. To read more from Doucleff’s very enlightening article visit All hail the powerful women in music – those gone and those still with us. Congrats on your well-deserved six Grammy’s Adele. So sorry they unceremoniously cut your acceptance speech for Best Album and Best Female at the Brit Awards. You sounded so gracious, but then, I didn’t see you ‘throw the middle finger’. Anyway, “regrets and mistakes, they’re memories made” by “someone like you”.