On singing and emotional bonding
“In the beginning was the voice...
Men sang out their feelings long before they were able to speak their thoughts.”
Archaeologists say that humanity’s most ancient notated music in existence is not instrumental but a song, and a spiritual one at that, called the Hymn to Creation
, originated in the oldest civilisation known to us, the Sumerian, and dated more than eight centuries B.C. And, as if to follow this evolutionary pattern, GRRM chose that the first and the last times we would actually see Sansa Stark singing in the novels, not only get a description of her love of songs, would be precisely a religious song, the Mother’s Hymn.
This intriguing coincidence has led me to examine the circumstances in which Sansa is more strongly connected to singing or is actually doing it herself, with the purpose of gaining knowledge about how she uses songs as a vehicle for emotional expression and bonding.
But first, a brief history of the musical education of women is useful for understanding how she came to love songs in the first place. During the Middle Ages music, both instrumental and vocal, was an integral part of everyday life for a highborn woman; she was tutored about music from a very early age, for practical reasons, as it was required as preparation for her future role as lady of her husband’s (or in some cases unmarried brother’s and widowed father’s) castle. As a result of this education, noblewomen came to adopt one of these four roles in relation to music, depending on their own ability or inclination:
A. Audience; they listened to the singers, be it resident or errant, that entertained their households, either because they loved the music or because they had to attend or act as hostesses in frequent banquets and tourneys, where musical entertainment was essential, as well as in family gatherings. It was a necessity for a proper lady to know what the musical landscape could offer, to know about the popular bards and their songs
B. Participant; they would entertain their family or guests by playing an instrument, such as the lute or the harp, and singing, alone or accompanied by another musician.
C. Patroness; especially if the noblewomen’s House or that of their husband were rich and powerful, in which case they would have many singers in their personal retinue, and gather and support various troubadours and musicians financially.
D. Creator; these were the ladies that composed pieces for instruments, wrote songs and poems, which they would then play or sing before a public at court or at home, or pass it on to a professional singer to perform.
Roles A and C were the commonest and most fashionable for female aristocrats; of the two, the role of patroness was the most important, because it was patronage by noblewomen that shaped a culture centered on courtly love and chivalric behaviour, helped the success of the troubadours and the dissemination of musical styles from one country to another, as these ladies had to marry noblemen from other lands, thus often having to take their own network of singers, scribes and courtiers to their husband’s lands, where they would mingle with those of their spouse and enriched the styles and ideas of the new household. Role B was also common in the upper echelon of nobility, although not nearly as much as the former. But role D was quite rare; we know of dozens and dozens of male troubadours from that epoch, yet we only know of twenty one women singers/composers by name only, of which the only ones known today thanks to their work having survived in written form are Hildegard von Bingen and Countess Beatriz de Diá, who wrote mainly sacred songs and poetry respectively.
As for Sansa, she is first presented as participant through some comments by a family member, Arya, who informs us that she could dance and sing, and play the high harp and the bells, which we assume took place mostly in private performances for the Starks and their household; and it could be argued that she possibly had material for the creator category as well, due to her ability for composing poetry, which demands a good mastery of language because in this genre language itself must be the music, so it has a higher level of difficulty in cognitive terms, more so in children, who’re still maturing neurologically and normally master the craft of linguistic composition throughout late adolescence. We don’t have samples of Sansa’s writing to judge her skills, but that she could do poetry at that age attests to two facts: good linguistic skills (which ties in with her not being good with numbers; it’s not frequent to master both skills at the same level) and that she was well educated in literature as well as in music, both marks of cultural refinement for nobles of her rank. Later, she’s in the role of audience, listening to the court singers at King’s Landing in more than one occasion, which leaves us with just one role she doesn’t fulfill. We haven’t seen her as patroness, due to her age and not being in a position to support musicians, but there’s an anecdote of her as a young child advocating before Lord Eddard to make a travelling singer (the type who most sought noble patronage) stay at Winterfell. In sum, it seems that even if her traditional education gave her the tools, it’s by natural inclination that Sansa loves music in general, not only some songs for immature reasons; otherwise she wouldn’t have shown an interest in learning to play an instrument, to write her own poetry, to attend musical performances, or even be able to find a small measure of joy in dancing through her soul-crushing wedding banquet. And above all, she wouldn’t have known how to bond with someone else through music.
Singing as a vehicle for emotional bonding is the subject to be analysed here because in its most basic, evolutionary dimension, that’s what music is for. In the earliest stages of human evolution, before man could invent instruments or communicate by speaking, women used the voice as a soothing mechanism to calm their children and bond with them, the same way modern mothers do with their babies, so any healthy human being is biologically and emotionally conditioned since his in utero
existence for responding to music, and once he develops reasoning, music will engage a person on different levels, of which the emotional comes first and the cognitive second, as proven by research that demonstrated that of the top six reasons for listening to music, three are linked to feelings: interpersonal relationships of all types (friendship and love mostly), mood management and positivity; and of the top six uses of music, four are also connected to emotions: friendship, joy, comfort and love.
Now let’s take a look at three circumstances in which Sansa bonds through music.Songs and emotional receptivity
From the very first experiment ever on the effects of music on certain behaviours, there has been a strong suspicion that songs also had a significant impact on the responsiveness of women to courtship requests by the opposite genre, which was later confirmed by separate studies by researchers Dan Levitin and Nicolas Guéguen. The latter demonstrated that when a song with lyrics dealing with love is present on the scene, it increased the probability of the woman accepting a request for a date some minutes later. This is because music induces positive affect (emotion), which in turn makes her more receptive to romantic advances. It could also be that the lyrics increase the woman’s sensitivity in an unconscious manner, which leads to the display of behaviour favourable to a connection of a romantic nature with the man. For men, it works better to be reminded of a pleasant episode than listening to a song. They are normally the ones doing the singing, as do the males in any species, and it’s not frequent for a man to want this from a woman, excluding career singers. When they do, the pattern they follow is to use musical means as indirect expression of an emotional need (affection), communicating (conversation) and symbolic representation (it varies, in the present case it’s sexual desire).
And what does all this have to do with a song from a fantasy novel, you ask? Here Milady has some splainin’
to do: from all the men who’ve been involved with Sansa, the dead and the still living, only one has ever requested a song from her, and one that has romance in the lyrics at that.
Not Tyrion “The last thing my wife needs is more songs” Lannister, and not Petyr “Life is not a song, sweetling” Baelish. Which is revealing in two ways: it indicates inability to bond emotionally with her and disinterest in/disregard for her feelings. In both cases, especially Littlefinger, whose body language as he’s saying that line gives him away completely: he’s caressing her cheek in a show of false affection, and we can say that Sansa felt uncomfortable at that, because remembering it she feels uneasy in hindsight. Compared to the scene with Sandor taking her back to her room from the serpentine steps, in which he’s cupping her chin whilst he requests a song, we see no sign of discomfort on her part but a willing offer of singing her favourite ballad, whereas Baelish has made an eleven-year-old Sansa feel ill at ease three times in just the first book: when introducing himself at the Hand’s Tourney and touching her hair, when telling her the quoted line whilst touching her face, and when she was summoned to the council meeting and she registered that the manner he looked at her made her feel naked. Furthermore, his use of songs and singers as tools for deceit and manipulation outside of this specific scene strengthens this interpretation.
Songs communicate a specific emotion subconsciously when a person doesn’t express it directly, because through music a person is able to symbolise something that is not there, and, strangely, a message delivered through music is perceived as an “honest signal,” according to Levitin, as it rings more sincere and truer to the receiver. Besides, emotions evoked by music—any kind of music—are not identical with the emotions aroused by everyday interpersonal activity, they are more powerful in cognitive and emotional terms. In contrast with his nostalgic flashback about his first wife’s favourite song, “Seasons of my love,” the Imp’s inability to pierce through Sansa’s courtesy armour and connect emotionally with her is brought to the surface with his rejection of songs, which are all about feeling, emotion, passion, and are closely associated with the "feminine” aspect of the self, according to Jung, who would’ve proposed that this deliberate rejection (music phobia is a different issue altogether) is a sign of being fearful of feelings that would involuntarily be stirred up by these tunes, ones he could not dissect analytically because that’d require a level of self-awareness that he doesn’t have. On one hand, he deludes himself hoping to be loved by a woman that has no reason for doing this ever, but on the other hand, by denying her the songs he knows she loves, the only means she had at hand to get some enjoyment or solace once she’d been stripped of everything, Tyrion directly negates her emotional satisfaction as he’d previously participated in negating her desires and her will.
To such pretensions, her response is either discomfort or unbreakable courtesy, for in both scenarios her own desires aren’t taken into account and her preferences are dismissed. Yet she responds differently to Clegane’s awkward displays of interest in her. He asked her for a song thrice and all were during situations in which his guard was lowered, so artifice and false emotion aren’t present: at the serpentine steps, when he escorts her to her bedchamber and during Blackwater. The more we examine these three circumstances, the more evident it becomes that ‘tis not the song itself, whichever the lyrics may be, that mattered to him but what the song embodied for him: affection he wanted; musical sounds themselves may carry emotional meaning independently of lyrics, but that’s more certain when linked to a significant event/person. The first time, he asks for an unspecified song about knights and ladies, though it can be understood that it’s going to be necessarily a romantic one, because most of this type were, and that it’s going to be Florian and Jonquil
because it’s the most popular and most mentioned song in ASOIAF and the Dunk & Egg tales 
, plus the fact that the author overlapped Sandor’s figure with that of Dontos, the fake Florian, moments before he collides with her at the steps. The second time he asks for “his song,” she offers precisely her favourite of the many she knows, and he expressed his frustration at her innocent obliviousness through harsh words and goes on to say he’ll have one eventually, to which she again replies that she’ll sing gladly. These actions, however cringe-worthy due to his inebriation, do demonstrate a genuine if consciously blocked interest in her for herself. And there’s an interesting parallelism between how Sandor and Duncan approach their first love interests, because both show their attraction for the first time to Sansa and Tanselle respectively with Florian and Jonquil
in the background; and they are the only two couples whom GRRM has written with this particular backdrop motif in their initial interactions.
And since we’re exploring the theme of medieval knighthood in the small project this essay is a part of, it’s worthwhile to insert here a note on GRRM apparent love for Arthurian legends, as can be inferred from the inclusion of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King
in his book recommendations
, which has led to the formation of a little theory of mine. That it’s possible that Martin drew inspiration from one of those old knightly tales as basis for the figure of Florian the Fool. I am talking specifically of Sir Percival, whose story and quest for the Holy Grail was first registered and left unfinished by Chrétien de Troyes, and is most famous today in the renditions written by German medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
, and composer Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal.
Little we know of Florian’s story and personal characteristics: that he was lowborn, homely, a fool and a great knight, his requited love for Jonquil, and that there are a giant and a dragon involved in his storyline, and that the songs about him are “sad” according to Sansa and “sweet and sad” according to Duncan. So there’s very little material on which to speculate further, but amongst the facts we do know, there are a few notable coincidences between both knights/fools:
- We don’t know anything of Florian’s origins beyond his low birth. Likewise, Parsifal is raised up as a lowborn by his widowed mother in a forest, though he’s a noble.
- Parsifal was a fool first and then became a knight, wearing motley under his armour. He’s the only fool and anointed knight in medieval chivalric literature. Florian is also a fool and a knight, wearing armour made of motley, and is the only one of the legendary heroes in ASOIAF that has both professions.
- There is a giant in Florian’s tale, which he can assume he engaged in a fight and won. Parsifal also fought giants, amongst other foes, and vanquished them.
- Florian had a love story with a highborn maid, Jonquil, though we don’t know how their relationship ended and what became of her; and in de Troyes’ version, Parsifal rescued a fair maid, Blanchefleur, who became his first love and lover. But in von Eschenbach’s poem, he had a love story with a different highborn maid, Condwiramurs, who sought his help in escaping a forced marriage; he fought and defeated her betrothed in a duel, then married her and had two sons, one of which is another famous hero, Lohengrin.
And here’s where the parallelisms end, as there is no dragon and the Arthurian hero was no plain-faced man but the opposite, not to mention that his story has a strong redemption motif in all the three versions mentioned, something that is not known if the Westerosi legend has, and has more of the sweet and little of the sad. The two characters in Martin’s fictional world that mention this song most times are first Sansa and then Duncan the Tall.
Edited by Milady of York, 17 March 2013 - 06:26 PM.