Music stirs memory, motivation
We went to a marvelous magic show this weekend, courtesy of our son Ben and his bride, Emily. I am not a big fan of magic shows, but this one was different … for several reasons. First, the performers were also comedians and I absolutely love comedy. Life is just too full of its opposite. Laughing is therapeutic. And then there was the background music that accompanied each act.
This music was recognizable. I knew the words to those selections that had lyrics and even more to the point, the tempo, the orchestration, the established meanings of the music contributed powerfully to the illusions.
It is truly amazing how the “music of your life” can change how you feel, both mentally and physically.
I know that on a down day or a day where the evidence of age makes itself physically known, music can change me. I can order my Echo Dot to play music that transports me away from the part of my brain that says the day is dreary or that my back hurts.
Play the lush Brazilian jazz of Getz and Gilberto or “Wave” by Antonio Carlos Jobim or Carly Simon’s” Moonlight Serenade” album and I am just fine. Beds get made, floors mopped, work done. Of course, these particular selections are connected to my life, my experiences. Play “Wave” and I’m 25 again, living in a charming basement apartment, my dark green Mustang convertible with its 8 track tape player parked outside. From Stravinsky, Devorak and Debussy to Frankie Valli, The Ames Brothers, the Eagles and Michael Buble, my music spans generations and genres
Neurologists know that singing and playing music actually changes structures in the brain. Sad, depressed, fearful and anxious people become less sad, depressed, fearful or anxious when they listen to the music of their life. “Music and Memory,” a program that many nursing homes and hospitals use, takes this information and uses it to “treat” the symptoms of dementia, depression and anxiety. Dementia patients who no longer speak, when listening to the music they like, will sing along and, in some cases, even begin to speak again.
There is a marvelous film that won the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 entitled “Alive Inside” that shows the power of music. The renowned Oliver Sacks is one of the narrators of the movie, in which the transformation observed in the subjects when given access to their music is astounding.
But I don’t need neurologists to tell me that music has power. I sang my little ones to sleep every night. I sat by their bedsides after tonsillectomies and sang away their discomfort. I knew, as most teachers with whom I worked did, that band students tended to do better in school than those who were not musically inclined. I don’t know if anyone has studied that phenomenon, but classroom behavior and grades told me that band kids had an advantage.
And, if we only focused on entertainment, what happens when you mute the sound during a movie? A great communicative dimension is lost. Whether action film or love story, the music underlies, uplifts, further defines and engages us in the action. Without the musical score, the movie flat. How less romantic, mysterious, scary or exciting would what we see be without music? How would we know to shield our eyes or plug our ears when evil is about? The music is a good cue to close your eyes or plug your ears.
I think of the effects of sea shanties, work songs, Christmas carols, lullabies, songs that teach, product jingles, wedding songs and alma maters, music created to do work, to engender enthusiasm, encourage and excite. Think of a soccer team leaving the field to Queen’s “We are the Champions” or a father being celebrated to the stains of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” Music, while relatable to cultural biases, is found all over the world on every continent, island and speck of land where there are people.
Music is uniquely part of who we are as humans. Music involves multiple parts of the brain and, if that music is performed, correlates with physical activity. At birth we can sing, recognize music, even keep a raggedy form of tempo. While we can trace almost exactly where the neurons that create language are found in our brains, music is far more involved in engaging other locations in our brains that are associated with movement, sound, tempo, stress, bonding, etc. than language.
In the interest of complete transparency, I wrote this to the buoyant music of the Tijuana Brass’s “Whipped Cream and other Delights.”
Ann Ferro is a mother, a grandmother and a retired social studies teacher. While still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, she lives in Marcellus with lots of books, a spouse and a large orange cat.