Have you ever experienced the feeling of chills running up and down your spine while listening to music?
The technical term for experiencing the sensation of chills in reaction to a stimulus is a frisson. It turns out people who experience frisson in response to music also score high on one of the “big five” personality traits called Openness to Experience.
The Open to Experience person is highly imaginative, intellectual, and adventurous. When it comes to musical tastes, they favor music that is reflective, complex, and powerful. They report experiencing a profound sense of awe when a piece of music moves them.
The Great Highland Bagpipe may not be the first instrument that comes to mind for such an effect. It can play just 9 notes, it maintains a constant volume of loud, and it does not allow for silent pauses in-between sounds. For many people, it just sounds like a wall of noise.
Not so for the Open to Experience types who lean into the sound and pick up on many layers of complexity that others miss. If they are not musically trained, they do this somewhat subconsciously and may not even recognize what intrigues them.
What they are hearing is something Pipers call embellishment and ornamentation. Through musical techniques of grace notes, trills, and rolls, the Piper varies the sound and increases the novelty factor.
Sean Somers, Pipe Major for the Rocky Mountain Pipe Band, demonstrates this exceptionally well in this video of his original composition Brogan’s Jig. Pay attention to the flurry of quick notes playfully woven into the structure of the song.
If a lone piper can give one the chills, the compounding effect of a full Pipes and Drums band playing in unison is where the awe really kicks in.
When asked what makes a Pipes and Drums band win championships, Sean Somers replied, “Perseverance!” Tight synchronization is a crucial element in the overall effect, and there are many moving parts to coordinate, literally.
The Pipe Major is stomping feet to keep time; Drummers are twirling sticks, and in the case of a massed band, there can be an entire field of musicians playing and marching together, giving the impression of a rolling tide.
Check out Rocky Mountain Pipe Band’s 2017 North American Championship winning performance. Let the sound wash through rather than over you. This is an excellent first step towards increasing your Openness to Experience.