This month we are launching the first in a series of posts on each of the 24 character strengths and virtues identified by the “Fathers” of positive psychology, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, in their 2004 book, Character Strengths and Virtues. At the end of this post you can read a brief explanation and list of character strengths. By its very nature, music is beautifully equipped to express those strengths. Listening closely, with the help of our commentary, can give you a heightened awareness of the value they add to all life.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the national elections, and in anticipation of the holiday of Thanksgiving, we are concentrating this month on the character strength of GRATITUDE. This is a strength that contributes greatly to feelings of happiness, so it’s well worth cultivating. Take nothing for granted. That is the essence of gratitude.
When it comes to music, there are a number of examples of gratitude we could turn to, but perhaps none is more inspiring than Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, subtitled “Pastoral–a recollection of country life in F major.”
One of the most moving things about this particular symphony is how the music so vividly communicates the pleasures of savoring. This is especially true in the first two movements: “Awakening of cheerful feeling on arriving in the country” and “Scene by the brook.” Beethoven dwells lovingly on his musical phrases, conveying a sense of gratitude and wonder as he contemplates the play of sunlight, the luxuriant foliage, the scent of grass, and so much more.
Beethoven loved to take walks in the countryside outside of Vienna. It gave him both peace of mind and musical ideas. As he wrote elsewhere: “How glad I am to be able to roam in wood and thicket, among the trees and flowers and rocks. No one can love the country as I do…my bad hearing does not trouble me here. In the country every tree seems to speak to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’ In the woods there is enchantment which expresses all things.” Charmingly, he concludes his “Scene by the brook” with an evocation of birdsong–specifically the song of the nightingale, quail, and cuckoo, in that order. Listen for them.
We have focused here on the fourth and fifth movements: “Thunderstorm” and “Shepherd’s Song, feelings of joy and thanks after the storm .”
In the storm movement, listen for the first scurries of wind and big raindrops. The storm then begins to rage in all its fury, complete with a suggestion of howling wind, thunder and lightning. As the storm abates, we hear a joyful shepherd’s yodel (we survived again!) that provides much of the source material for Beethoven’s glorious hymn of thanks that follows.
We have chosen a YouTube performance of the complete symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, because it is one of the most vibrant renditions. For those who want to hone in on the last two movements–the storm and shepherd’s song–move the cursor to 32:06. You will hear–and see–the ominous tremolo in the lower strings ushering in the storm, a segue from the third movement’s “Peasants’ Merrymaking.”
We hope this brief description of a focused listening experience is something you both enjoy and benefit from cognitively. If you want to add another benefit, don’t just sit in your seat to listen. Get up and move to the music as well. Share it with others. Savor it actively.
WHAT ARE CHARACTER STRENGTHS?
They are universal human qualities that fit the following criteria:
1. acting from them is intrinsically fulfilling
2. they are morally valued across cultures
3. they are psychologically healthy
4. practicing them doesn’t diminish the self esteem of other people
5. they have an opposite–e.g. gratitude vs. ingratitude
6. they are trait-like along a continuum (some people have more, some less)
7. they are distinctive from each other, although they can work together
8. there are paragons of each strength to point to
9. there are prodigies who exhibit each strength early in life
10. their absence is as easily recognized as their presence
11. there are institutions and rituals that encourage their use
THE 24 CHARACTER STRENGTHS WE WILL DRAW ON
5. Love of Learning
9. Ability to Love
10. Social Intelligence
20. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence