“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast” goes the old phrase, and in my opinion no truer statement has been uttered.
Growing up, I was surrounded by music. My mother loved to sing despite how much I rolled my eyes at her (a scene that karma is currently replaying daily in my own home). My brother was a disc jockey on a local jazz radio station. I played piano, sang in all the Darien High School choirs including the Tudor Singers, and eventually even stumbled through some saxophone playing in marching, jazz, concert, and pep bands in high school and college. Many of my friends were musicians, and I even worked at a jazz club during college (in the offices, not on the stage).
After college, it was hard to keep making music in the real world. I tried to fit a keyboard in my small New York City apartment but was sensitive to the neighbors. My horn needed a band to soften its amateur sound, but my musical friends weren’t local. When I got the chance to meet my favorite saxophonist, Branford Marsalis, he encouraged me to play out my window loud and proud. But I was timid and shy. And I lost confidence in my voice in a city that was full of aspiring professionals. (My participation in the 1990’s karaoke craze did not help rebuild it.)
As a parent, I found my voice again with lullabies, nursery rhymes, and Mommy & Me classes. I may have been a bit too excited to replay the Baby Einstein videos or sing along when Laurie Berkner showed up on Jack’s Big Music Show. And it’s currently a game for me to come up with a song related to pretty much everything my kids say. I’m pretty good at this (really, give me a word), but oddly, I seem to be the only one who finds it entertaining.
I watch them sing in choruses, perform in plays, and experiment with instrumental lessons, and I hope they find their joy in music like I did. But as I watched from the audience, I realized I was still missing something.
In recent years, I have recognized that I need music in my life and I’ve made more of an effort to seek it out. While I can’t always justify the cost and time needed to attend a big arena show, there are so many local venues that host original artists and put on fantastic tribute shows which bring me back to the songs I grew up with. I usually cry at some point during these shows, because I love the music but also because I miss it.
So this year I took a bolder step and became a participant again. I joined a choir and rediscovered the beauty of blended voices and the delight in being a part of it all. I cry there sometimes too — don’t tell anyone.
In truth, the emotional effects of music are no secret. The list of benefits associated with listening to, playing, and experiencing music is quite astonishing. It seems like few aspects of life are not enhanced by music. Listening to upbeat music has been found to help increase motivation, physical performance and stamina, when exercising and otherwise. Music can increase focus and cognitive performance, elevate mood, and reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Calming music can improve sleep quality and even influence eating habits so you eat slower and consume less. Music has been shown to provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia because the brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by these diseases.
Side note for the NCAA Final Four this weekend, one study even indicated that music can help with performance in intense sports moments, finding that basketball players who tended to “choke” under pressure during games were significantly more successful at high-pressure free-throw shooting if they first listened to catchy, upbeat music and lyrics.
Listening to music is only part of the story. Analyzing and rewriting lyrics or writing original songs can help us process emotions and build communication skills, and improvising with instruments, professional or makeshift, allows for emotional expression and release.
For many, technology has made access to music easier, with iPods, Pandora, and Alexa keeping us connected. Personally, I’ve struggled to keep my music accessible on different devices. Long ago, I recorded all my favorite records onto audio tapes that I can no longer play; more recently, I loaded all my CD’s to an iTunes library I can’t seem to access, but those are but small obstacles in my quest for musical fulfillment.
If you have let music become an afterthought in your chaotic life, bring it back to the forefront. “One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.” (Bob Marley)
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.