Carmen in rehearsal

10/4/15: Carmen’s Catching
Ashley Pearson

I’ve been musing about the ‘stuck-in-my-headed-ness’ of Carmen a lot during our first week of Research and Development. There is something very powerful about a song that can wiggle its way into the fabric of your life. The music fromCarmen is entirely addictive. Trust me, a soon as someone hums the first few notes of the Habañera or Toreador arias, they will play on repeat in your head for many days. It’s not like having one of those bass-thumping dance hits with words like “shots shots shots shots shots” stuck in your head, though. Carmen is much more lilting and elusive. Even as I type this, my boyfriend is whistling Toreador. While I’m sure he hasn’t heard Carmen lately, that catchy little bit of music is playing on repeat in his head because I’ve been humming it for a whole week.

Carmen cast chart the journeys of their characters on their first few days of R&D rehearsals

Carmen cast chart the journeys of their characters on their first few days of R&D rehearsals

Apparently, there is a technical term for ‘stuck-in-your-headed-ness.’ It’s called an earworm. These earworms are usually short tidbits (on average 8 seconds) of a song that are catchy due to a combination of their repetition of a theme and some unique quality— all earworms have a catchy twist. They often have notes which are long (ish) in duration, with small pitch intervals. According to Elizabeth Margulis, author of On Repeat: How Music Plays in the Mind, listening to music engages the motor planning area of the brain, and this “imaginative participation” may be what leads to earworms.

Here’s a clip of Richard Immergluck, who will be playing the illustrious Escamillo in Carmen this summer, singing the bit that’s been circling around in my head:

 I certainly think this clip fulfills our earworm criteria— small pitch intervals and long(ish) notes. There’s even something a bit surprising about it— it doesn’t quite go where you’d expect. And it’s 8 seconds long. So, I would definitely say this qualifies as an ideal earworm (but maybe that’s just because it’s stuck in my head).

According to the Earwormery Project at Goldsmiths (University of London), there are two popular coping strategies to deal with those pesky earworms. The first is to engage with the music by listening to the full piece out loud. The second is to distract from it by listening to other great music. If you, like me, are suffering from a Carmen earworm, looks like the only cure might be to come see the show!


Carmen is at Soho Theatre, 5 August - 19 September
Buy tickets here