Music creates unity among peoples, cultures and nations. Music can touch the soul, making it our universal means of communication.2
Is this what Dumbledore means when he defines music as “a magic beyond all we do here”? 3 A power to unite the magical world and work its way to the most intimate places of their hearts? One might ask: Why then are they not fighting Lord Voldemort and his followers with instruments and song?
Interestingly enough, one of the first things we learn about Dumbledore is that he “enjoys chamber music” when Harry first sees his portrait on a Chocolate Frog Card.4 An offhand remark one might think, yet the alert reader has learnt to be suspicious of even the smallest detail which seems just a nice addition. Although chamber music has not yet occurred in the series (well, perhaps the orchestra of singing saws at Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday Party5 might count) a look at music in the Potterverse might give us new insight as to what is so powerful about it.
The aim of this essay is to take a closer look at the different references to music in the Harry Potter books. Of course we will not look at every instance, as Peeves' little songs – as funny as they might be – belong to mockery and humour. As we move through the different traits of music from its unifying, healing and helping qualities on to all the traits in phoenix's song we will both look at how this comes to pass in the books and how this ties into real life.
We find unity through music in national anthems and songs of praise. In such cases the individuals become members of a larger group, as the singer does not address a person (though debatable with the God figure), but an idea.
It is a song [the anthem] that has a special meaning to the citizens of that country. The people feel proud of their country when they sing this anthem. They feel loyal when they hear the music being played.6
Songs remembering historical happenings or heroes do not only evoke pride and loyalty, but also “awaken a sense of togetherness.” 7 This loyalty and togetherness as a quality of unity will be explored further when we examine phoenix song. This sense of togetherness can go even further: many have experienced what happens when singing or playing music in a group. Whether in church, in an ensemble, or even singing the club's favourites at the football game, energy can pick the participant up and transport them to a higher emotional level. At this point the singer's voice is not the voice of an individual, but one of many creating an overwhelming atmosphere.
It is this sense of togetherness that the Sorting Hat addresses in its songs and it is quite right that without unity the Houses of Hogwarts have a slim chance of winning against Voldemort. The Great Hall and the Sorting Hat are essential in keeping the school together and it is here that we have seen many musical attempts to unite the students.
First of all, there is the passive influence of the Sorting Hat itself, telling them to forget past grudges between the Houses and unite as one school in its songs. It is interesting that this is done through a song. Why does the hat not say what is on its mind; why break out in song? We find similar practice with court jesters who knew how to divulge important information to their masters via hiding information in songs, jokes and riddles: “He could say some dangerous truth disguised as a joke or even criticize the ruler in subtle ways.” 8 The hat is doing this in its songs, too. If it were to say its concerns flat out it would meet deaf ears. However, dressing this information in a song – something entertaining – gets the listener to pay attention and think about the problem for themselves, as we see the trio do when they hear the Sorting Hat's song. Might the hat actually be the court jester to the Hogwarts community? This intriguing question is for another essay.
Next to the Sorting Hat we have Dumbledore himself encouraging them to sing the school song,9 through which they actively unite under the school banner. Even though Dumbledore encourages them to pick different tunes for the school song, they are all adding to the feeling of belonging to the unity of Hogwarts. He also enjoys leading them in Christmas carols,10 yet another attempt to unite everyone present.
We have seen another occurrence of music in the Great Hall – the Yule Ball.11 It shows very clearly how people behave under the joyous influence of music. Everyone on the dance floor is enjoying themselves despite who might be dancing next to them or watching them – Harry passes “Fred and Angelina, who were dancing so exuberantly that people around them were backing away for fear of injury.” 12 The Yule Ball was a traditional dance, meant to promote unity through the free mingling of the students and professors of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang without any prejudices against one another. True, we do not hear anything about the Slytherins, but just the fact that no hostility is mentioned regarding them is striking. We have several examples of this unity working – Viktor and Hermione enjoy their time together, and after attempting to engage Ron and Harry in the festivities, the Patil twins go off and are seen having fun with boys from Beauxbatons. For those who do not allow the music to carry them away, this unity is not experienced. Snape is seen rousting couples out of the bushes, holding himself apart from the unity of the evening, and Harry and Ron also remain apart by not allowing themselves to be swept away by the influence of the music. Harry would do well to learn the lesson provided by the Sorting Hat and this Yule Ball, as this bonding through music might prove to be very important come the last book. Dumbledore is fully right in saying: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” 13
Unity is not the only way in which music can affect us; another of its influences is to act as an enchantment. The enchanting character of music is not only something of legends and fairy tales. Many cultures used special music genres to help reach a state of trance. However, in our modern society one finds traces of how music influences us too. “There is a connection between trance theory and the musical genre ‘trance music’ or ‘techno trance’ as well as the trance inducing music of shamans of Africa, Central and South America and other areas.” 14 On a disco dance floor you might see dancers going into a trance-like state as they are entirely engulfed in the repetitive rhythm they are dancing to. We have something similar in the above-mentioned scene of Fred and Angelina dancing exuberantly at the Yule Ball. They might not be in trance, but they are certainly letting themselves be carried by the music.
On the other hand, just think back to film scenes that excited you or really touched your heart. Nine out of ten times these emotions are evoked or at least supported by the soundtrack. Many scenes only gain their power through the music: “Without the direct emotional influence of music the fundamental meaning of the picture would change. Love would become embarrassing, the Alpine landscape rather small.” 15 True the word enchantment is perhaps too strong for this, but the filmmakers are relying on the ability of music to stir the innermost feelings and/or change the perception of these two-dimensional pictures for those willing to listen and go on the adventure. Again we can find a similar emotional reaction to music in Mrs Weasley's reveries when the Weasleys and their guests are listening to a Christmas broadcast of Celestina Warbeck.16
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we encounter the Veela who entrance all unprepared males with their beauty and song.17 However, Harry soon learns to resist at least their visual powers.18 In the books we also encounter two episodes of music being used to cause sleepiness. For one we have Fluffy in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to whom you “jus' play […] a bit o' music an' he'll go straight off ter sleep.” 19 On the other hand we have the little musical box they find in the living room at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, making them all sleepy.20 In either case only the stopping of the music lifts its power over the enchanted listeners. All three examples can be traced back to mythology and tales. The Veela are probably based on the Slavic nymphs Vila, who live in forests and take to and entrap lone wanderers until they are bored of them.21 Orpheus manages to enter Hades by singing and playing his lyre; even Cerberus – the three-headed dog – lies down and lets him pass.22 The musical box from Grimmauld Place is reminiscent of the Glockenspiel in Mozart's The Magic Flute, which when played makes “their [the slaves' and Monostratos'] ears sing,” i.e. forces them to dance and forget that they were pursuing Pamina and Papageno who thus can escape capture.23
These examples show that music, though seemingly something very simple, can embody immense power which can be used both positively (Fluffy) and negatively (musical box). Belonging to the arts, music plays an important role in affects, i.e. encompassing “many human mental reactions and states that are not traditionally viewed as intellectual.” 24 Music is known by many scholars to be the most direct and inescapable means of influencing its audience:
Feelings, emotions and moods are the principal categories of affect. It is one of the most inescapable and characteristic features of music that people report strong emotional reactions to it. […] [M]usic engages the auditory sense, which gives it a general arousing capacity due to the fact that we cannot escape the source of stimulation (as we can, for instance, for a painting by looking away or closing our eyes).25
For our further investigation it is crucial to keep in mind that the listener has little means of escaping the “source of stimulation.” Sometimes even plugging one's ears will not totally stop the influence. Depending on the genre and how it is performed the vibrations go through the body which can be enough to trigger some of the above mentioned effects, though perhaps to a lesser degree and depending on how musically schooled the person is. The only certainty of being under no influence whatsoever is to move out of the range of influence or stopping it, i.e. finding means to not hear or feel the music at all.
Dumbledore's definition of music being beyond anything they teach at Hogwarts might well point to the power evoked without any direct magical source for it. However, it is debatable whether the results have anything to do with a power one would define as magic in the Potterverse or if it is due to a power of its own. It is true that the musical box might well possess some magical power to strengthen the effect of the tune. Yet even if this were the case, the charm would probably use the power coming from the music as its source of energy, which means that the music is the primary power source.
In the preceding section we have dealt with music acting on its own, i.e. with no further magical interference. The last paragraph looked at how music is not caused by magic, but can act as a power source for it. This train of thought is based on the presumption that magic needs some source of power from which it can feed. Someone casting a spell can be the source in particular circumstances (as with the Patronus Charm26), yet in cases where the “end product” must be sustained for a long period of time this would be very draining. Because of this one might turn to an outside source from which a conjured object or an enduring action could take its energy.
We see a possible example of this in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where we watch Severus Snape perform “an incantation that sounded almost like song.” 27 For what other reason would an incantation be melodic if it was not to provide a source for the magic to draw its energy from? Severus Snape is not the type to twirl his wand unnecessarily so he would definitely not start singing without a reason.
In the real world, music is taking on an increasing role as a form of therapy. The patient is either active in producing music himself or a passive “recipient” of music. In either case the aim is to help the patients find means of expressing themselves or vent emotion. J.K. Rowling, however, takes this a step further, not only using music as a mental healer, but also as a source for physical healing, as we have just seen. Up until now Snape's incantation has been the only case of physical healing based on a musical source. There is, however, a parallel to be noted with Fawkes: his song is encouraging and soothing to Harry while his tears (to us a sign of strong feelings or emotion) “have healing powers.” 28 Bearing that in mind, we will focus more on Fawkes later.
The Voice of Help
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we see Harry receive instructions through music with the mermaid song. We first meet it contained in the Golden Egg.29 It holds the vital information on what is to come in the Second Task. Later in the lake Harry follows the song to find Ron. Here the song has changed from an instructing to a leading voice – yet in both cases it is a means of helping the Champion through the Second Task. It is, however, interesting that only those who make the effort to listen to it in the right environment (i.e. under water) will receive this information. One might even question whether the other champions let themselves be led by the mermaid song underwater, given that Harry found the hostages long before Cedric or Krum.30 Later in the section on the phoenix song we will also discuss its potentiality of helping and leading the hero.
Everyone will have witnessed diverse reactions towards music in the real world. Just think about how people can quarrel about whether the radio really has to be playing or why on earth one has to put up with the other listening to that particular music. Naturally, this is based on habit and taste, but it shows that we react differently to music. Furthermore, in concerts one listener will follow the soloist’s expertise with amazement whilst their neighbour is brought to tears by the deep emotional impact it has.
So far we have encountered two examples of music triggering different reactions from its listeners. For one the Veela song (though also their appearance) does not affect women.31 To a lesser degree we also see this with the musical box: Ginny is not lulled into a stupor as much as everyone else so that she can slam the box shut.32
The mocking songs such as “Weasley is our King” 33 also fall into this category of different reactions – and this one even incorporates a witty twist when viewed over time. This song not only undermines Ron's self-esteem to the great delight of the Slytherins, but the Gryffindors suffer from it to varying degrees, too. While the Slytherins have fun mocking the poor lad and their team actually takes courage from it, the Gryffindors lose strength and get bitter about the song while Ron breaks under its weight. However, the lucky turn of Ron finding his way to play up to standards quickly turns the song from something dreaded to “the old favourite.” 34
This differing reaction to music is one of several different effects that have been described here. There is a type of music that we have seen repeatedly throughout Harry Potter that incorporates all of these qualities, and that is phoenix song. Let us take a closer look at this most magical form of music.
Power and Symbology of Phoenix Song
Fawkes and his song have developed as a symbol of loyalty, one aspect of which can be viewed as unity as discussed above. J.K. Rowling uses the phoenix song to show the strong bond of loyalty developing between Dumbledore and Harry. This becomes apparent when Dumbledore comes to Harry's hearing in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where the latter experiences “[a] powerful emotion […] a fortified, hopeful feeling rather like that which phoenix song gave him.” 35 Interestingly enough, this occurs in the period of time when Dumbledore is trying to be as distant from Harry as he can, though at this point Harry only starts to become aware of it. Soon, however, Harry will stop “trusting Dumbledore and the Order to keep things under control.” 36 Despite this, it signals the start of the path these two characters will be travelling together – a journey which receives no support from the Ministry; in fact one the Ministry tries to disrupt and block. With the return of Voldemort, they need to become more than a student and a caring headmaster. It is necessary that they become scholar and master as indeed happens in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
This close bond enabling them to work together is based on trust, something Harry only gains after Dumbledore's explanations about his past (see Knott's analysis for further detail37), but above all on loyalty. During the private lessons Fawkes is not only present, but actually sends out signals alerting the reader of signs of utmost loyalty on both parts. For instance when Harry recounts his argument with Scrimgeour and how he confirmed the latter's accusation of being Dumbledore's man, “Fawkes the phoenix let out a low, soft, musical cry.” 38 Dumbledore's trust in and loyalty to Harry is underlined several pages later by “another low, musical cry” when the portrait of Phineus Nigellus voices his doubt that Harry could retrieve Slughorn's memory.39
The characters have reached a point of utmost loyalty to and trust in one another; this being symbolised by Fawkes' musical cries. Having looked at Fawkes' role in Harry's and Dumbledore's relationship we have encountered a trait of music in the Potterverse which is perhaps the most distant from the real world. In the real world loyalty is shown through words and deeds, but not through music or an outburst of singing. True, there were many composers serving their Duke or their Archbishop, yet their compositions are a result of their loyal service to these employers and not merely out of their loyalty to the superior. In fact, as this is a relationship between a worker and their superior this loyalty is on a totally different level than the interaction between Harry and Dumbledore. Dumbledore treats Harry as an equal: “I shall then be glad of your opinion as to whether the conclusions I have drawn from them [the memories] seem likely.” 40 Besides being symbolic of loyalty, phoenix song has also been shown to have powerful healing properties. This becomes very clear in the following passages:
Music was coming from somewhere. […]The music was growing louder. It was eerie, spine-tingling, unearthly; it lifted the hair on Harry's scalp and made his heart feel as though it was swelling to twice its normal size. Then, as the music reached such a pitch that Harry felt it vibrating inside his own ribs, flames erupted at the top of the nearest pillar. A crimson bird the size of a swan had appeared, piping its weird music to the vaulted ceiling.41
The presence of the phoenix gives strength to the boy facing the daunting task before him. It is interesting that a reference is made to how his heart figuratively swells. This is normally said to illustrate warmth spreading through you (and indeed the flames follow shortly afterwards), yet it also shows an increase in courage and positivity, as the opposite is usually depicted by the heart dropping into ones stomach or even lower. This raising of his spirits becomes intertwined with Fawkes' song.
And then an unearthly and beautiful sound filled the air … it was coming from every thread of the light-spun web vibrating around Harry and Voldemort. It was a sound Harry recognised, though he had heard it only once before in his life ... phoenix song ...
It was the sound of hope to Harry … the most beautiful and welcome thing he had ever heard in his life … he felt as though the song was inside him instead of just around him … it was the sound he connected with Dumbledore, and it was almost as though a friend was speaking in his ear …42
In recognising the song, Harry is engulfed again in the vibrations strengthening him mentally for what is to come. Sloboda calls this recognising effect extrinsic affect as this stimulus is linked in our memory with “particular contexts or events in earlier life, and provide[s] a trigger to the recall of these events. This seems particularly so when the earlier events were, in themselves, occasions of strong emotion.” 43 Harry remembers the strength he gained the last time he heard the song, he feels as if he is no longer alone.
But Fawkes' song is not only an element to help Harry through the seemingly inhuman fight against Voldemort. He also soothes all with his lament over Dumbledore's death. One might even equate the effects of this lament with those of the musical box, as we are told that “the spell of the music was broken: everyone roused themselves as though coming out of trances,” 44 when Minerva McGonagall breaks the meditative silence in the hospital wing.
In this bird's song we see again how closely different effects can lie together; though in both cases it carries a soothing effect the music is not only entitled differently (song versus lament) but it also has a totally different effect on the listeners. When Fawkes' voice is heard “on the battlefield” Harry is strengthened and finds the courage and energy he needs to win; after Dumbledore's death Fawkes' song starts the long process of healing the hearts.
In the above section we have briefly touched the aspect of music being a voice of help if the listener allows it. In the graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the phoenix song takes on the form of a character (reminding Harry of Dumbledore):
it was almost as though a friend was speaking in his ear …
Don't break the connection.
I know, Harry told the music, I know I mustn't …45
Though there is no one there, Harry is led by the music in his actions. Only later is he joined by the ghostly images of Voldemort's victims. It might be debatable whether or not it is the phoenix song telling him what to do. Still it is in connection with the music, whether through a message the music carries or due to his reaction to the music, that he knows he must not break the connection – and again like the above example he follows the advice. But does the familiarity, the thought of this being a friendly voice, have any significance?
But perhaps the most striking effect of phoenix song is the different reactions it triggers. In the section above on different reactions we only looked at a minor occurrence (“Weasley is our King”), but with Fawkes' song we have a very central plot device. When Fawkes sings we get diverse reaction from those listening. In Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them we are told that phoenix song “is reputed to increase the courage of the pure of heart and to strike fear into the hearts of the impure.” 46 In Goblet of Fire this characteristic of Fawkes' song is exploited to the full. When the phoenix song comes from every fibre of the golden web around Harry and Voldemort this one and the same song, sung by the very same voice offers Harry strength while Voldemort is scared. Not only is this a brilliant way to show where there is a flaw in Voldemort character, it poses the question if phoenix song might actually be a weapon of choice in the final battle to weaken the opponent yet gather strength for oneself.
Is Music a Handy Weapon?
In this essay we have seen that music can influence people and things in different intensities as well as on different levels. In most cases it results in a strong psychological effect or reaction which then can lead to physical changes or reactions like the mere power to do and endure unthinkable things (which Harry receives through Fawkes' song). Yet in the last books we have seen music having direct influence on physical happenings (the musical box and Snape's incantation). Together with the fact that Fawkes' song has become more and more prominent the question must be asked whether music might turn out to be something important and vital – perhaps even a weapon of choice in the final battle.
So should Harry have at least a drummer and pipe to go along with him and his friends, or have them sing battle songs, to keep up morale and strengthen their inner bonds when facing future battles with the Death Eaters? Should he call upon Fawkes to scare Voldemort and his followers and strengthen his own heart when he faces the ultimate battle, or perhaps go and fetch the little musical box to make Voldemort fall into a stupor?
Looking at how Fawkes' song influences Voldemort's demeanour one would be inclined to say, “Yes, music is a weapon of choice.” Throughout this essay, we have seen the striking effects of music on the people who hear it. It is likely that Voldemort, who has shown a tendency to discount the positive magic of love, may also discount the value of music as a magical aid. One might actually be glad that Dumbledore only comments on the power of music, but does not have it taught at Hogwarts (not even a general music or singing class), so that a Voldemort or someone else would not have gained an extra weapon due to his conscious knowledge of what music can do and how. Let us hope that while Voldemort stays oblivious to this powerful tool, Harry remembers Dumbledore’s words and finds a way to use the power of music to his advantage, including calling on Fawkes to again work wonders with his song.
1. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone, 95.
2. Stroutsos, quote ascribed to him.
3. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone, 95.
4. Ibid., 77.
5. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 101-4.
6. Dell, The National Anthem, 5.
7. Zijlstra, “Volkslied,” 182a. My translation of: “saamhorigheidsgevoelen opwekken.”
8. Anonymous, “Court Jester.”
9. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone, 95.
10. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 159.
11. Ibid., 365-75.
12. Ibid., 366.
13. Ibid., 627.
14. Wier, Trance Inducing Music.
15. de la Motte-Haber, “Filmmusik”, 20a. My translation of: “Ohne die gefuehlsunmittelbare Wirkung der Musik wuerde sich die Bedeutung des Bildes grundsaetzlich veraendern; die Liebe waere peinlich, die Alpenlandschaft recht klein.”
16. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 309-13.
17. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 93-94.
18. Ibid., 113.
19. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 194.
20. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 108.
21. Wikipedia, s.v. “Slavic fairies.”
22. Schwab, “Orpheus und Eurydike,” 96.
23. Mozart, Die Zauberfloete, 75. My translation of: “Dass die Ohren ihnen singen.”
24. Sloboda, “Affect,” 544b.
26. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 176.
27. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 489.
28. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 155.
29. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 402.
30. Ibid., 431-34.
31. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 94.
32. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 108.
33. Ibid., 360-64, 372, 398, 500, 508, 519, 603, 618-20, 652.
34. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 277.
35. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 128.
36. Knott, “Hogwarts: School of the Virtues.”
38. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 334.
39. Ibid., 349.
40. Ibid., 402.
41. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 232.
42. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 576.
43. Sloboda, “Affect,” 545a.
44. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 573-74.
45. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 576.
46. Ibid., Fantastic Beasts, 32.
Rowling, J.K., Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. London: Bloomsbury, 2001.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
“Court Jester.” Adapted from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Court_jester/id/506095 (accessed 21 September 2006).
Dell, Pamela. The National Anthem. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2002.
Knott, Jason. “Hogwarts: School of the Virtues.” Scribbulus 8, September 2006. The Leaky Cauldron, /features/essays/issue8/HogwartsSchoolofVirtues.
La Motte-Haber, Helga de. “Filmmusik.” In Musik und Bildung, 19-22. Mainz: 1977.
Mozart, Wolfgang A. Die Zauberfloete (Piano reduction). Leipzig: Edition Peeters.
Schwab, Gustav. “Orpheus und Eurydike.” In Sagen des klassischen Alterums, 96-97. Vienna: Ueberreuter, 1974.
Sloboda, John. “Affect” s.v. “Psychology of music.” In The New Grove – Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.) – Vol. 20, edited by Stanley Sadie, 544b-546a. New York: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2001.
Stroutsos, Gary. “About Gary." Website, http://www.garystroutsos.com/bio.htm.
Wier, Dennis R. Trance Inducing Music, http://trance.ch/music.htm.
Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Slavic Fairies.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_fairies (accessed 21 September 2006).
Zijlstra, Miep, s.v. “Volkslied.” Algemene Muziek Encyclopedie – Vol.10, Willem van Asbeck-van Dorp, 181a-182a. Weesp: Uniboek, 1984.