By Julia Duggan
Senior Staff Writer
It’s the season of love, and with that brings the question of finding the right music. Whether you are celebrating with your significant other in person or online this year, a common question is how best to set the mood. While photos of candles for online backgrounds might help, music can help this season feel closer to normal, even if everyone is just kissing their camera this Valentine’s Day.
After speaking with two music history professors from the College, they have several suggestions and tips for finding the right music. The Signal conducted an interview with Dr. Wayne Heisler, professor of historical and cultural studies in music, and Dr. Aliyah Shanti, an adjunct professor who teaches Music from 600 to 1750 and Music from 1750 to 1945.
“I would say that music can be romantic—with a small ‘r,’ as opposed to the Romantic Era with a capital ‘R’— when it reminds me of a special person or a special time spent with someone,” Heisler said.
The Romantic Era is a specific time period in music history, with an emphasis on love and passion in writing music. With Heisler’s definition of romantic music, anything can be considered romantic music, which can make picking the right songs for Valentine’s Day a little bit more daunting.
“Whether it's the medieval troubadour singing his unrequited love for a noble lady, or Lizzo expressing the dizzying swirl of her romantic emotions in "Cuz I Love You," music lets us let out feelings that we otherwise might keep hidden forever,” Shanti said. “Emotional music doesn't need to be vocal, either. Especially in the 19th century (the so-called "Romantic Period" of music history) many composers wrote works intended to evoke deep emotions, including those related to love.”
Both professors elaborated that it is more of what the individual prefers rather than a specific definition or time period.
“It has more to do with association,” Heisler said. “For me, instrumental music can have a romantic affect when resolution in a key is delayed, like the strings of deceptive cadences in Richard Wagner’s ‘Tristan Und Isolde.’ Also, lots of strings.”
What Heisler is referring to is a common occurrence in music — music is thought of as tension and release. Tension describes the suspense of aligning specific notes together to create unsettling chords. Release is when the notes are placed together to create calming chords. Tension and release in music is very similar to conflict and resolution in fiction writing, except it happens a lot faster and often than one would think.
“The music that moves a specific person's emotions is both intensely personal and affected by the culture around them,” Shanti said. “Also, love can take so many different forms, from sweet affection to intense passion. The best advice I can give when choosing romantic music is to listen to a lot of different things and find out what moves you. If you're planning this as music for a date, also be sure to pay attention to your partner’s tastes and find some music that you both like!”
Heisler’s five romantic song recommendations are: “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell (1967), “By Your Side” by Sade, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack (1969), “Hymn to Love” by Cyndi Lauper (2003) (original recorded by Edith Piaf), and “100 Ways” by James Ingram (1981).
Shanti’s five romantic song recommendations are: “Nocturnes” by Chopin, “Pur ti miro (I look at you)” from Claudio Monteverdi’s “Coronation of Poppea,” “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, “Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo, and “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae.
“I don't think you can go wrong with Chopin's ‘Nocturnes,’” Shanti said. “They are gorgeous, moody piano works, full of rich feeling. My specialty as a historian is 17th century opera. Opera has a ton of great love duets.”
Besides the College music professors, there are several recommendations of timeless love songs that should work for any occasion. Oprah magazine agrees with Heisler that Sade’s “By Your Side” is a great choice. Some other recommendations include “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Like a Virgin” by Madonna, and “Something,” by The Beatles.
Seventeen recommends “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran, “Love Me Now” by John Legend, “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves, and “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli. MusicNotes has an extensive list of suggestions including Disney love songs, Broadway love songs, as well as some anti-Valentine’s day songs.
If you do not have a significant other this year, Heisler has a song recommendation for you. It might be best to enjoy some ice cream while listening to this sad love song: “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo (2021) This brand-new song perfectly captures the feelings of a breakup.
No matter what music one decides to listen to on Valentine’s Day, there is no right or wrong answer in the end.
“Love has always been one of the most popular topics for songs,” Shanti said. “One of the great strengths of music is that it allows us to more fully express emotions that can be hard to convey in words alone.”