(Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist)
Music is universal. The idea that the cosmos is a “giant symphony of sound, with each entity represented by a unique underlying numeric property or unique sound” pre-dates modern scientific interpretations. Everything is nothing more than a harmonic expression. The greater universe “is a musical instrument and everything in it is vibrating in tune with the larger things that contain it.” Some believe that God dwells in this harmony. For centuries, man has tapped into this hidden reality, using music as a tool of science, entertainment, and in particular, healing.
Human beings have used varying types of “music therapy since the earliest recorded history.” Music and related stimuli have been used “for the purposes of altering behaviour and enhancing the everyday existence of people with various types of emotional disturbance." Egyptian priests chanted conjurations that “supposedly influenced women’s fertility.” The Greeks, the Hebrews, even North American aboriginals “treated physical and mental illness with the playing of music.” The Greeks (Zenocrates) were “the first to use music therapy as a regular practice,” harnessing “harp music to ease the outbursts of people with mental illnesses.”
We have always assumed that music acts like a trigger to an assigned set of memories, but now a study of brain scans has pinpointed where this process occurs in grey matter. This area of the brain called “the medial pre-frontal cortex” is located “just behind the forehead.” It acts to stimulate retention and recall specific events. It is a conduit of memory. Music acts like “a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head." Once recognized, it “calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person's face in your mind's eye."
Performing or listening to music can “enhance some kinds of higher brain function,” but it “has to be the right kind of music.” There is a “causal link between music and spatial reasoning." This theory, known as the Mozart Effect, demonstrates just how the power of music appears to heighten brain operations. Researchers hypothesized that listening to the music of Mozart for 10 minutes would prime “some of the same neural circuits that the brain employs for complex visual-spatial tasks.” One study group heard a Mozart sonata while another was exposed to meditation tapes or complete silence for the duration. The Mozart group “scored approximately 9 points higher in IQ tests of abstract spatial reasoning” than subjects exposed something else. Listening to other types of music did “not enhance [a] subjects' spatial test scores.” The effect is “short-lived” lasting only 15 minutes at the most.
Music can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, assist in relaxation, alleviate depression, and help store and recall information. It has been shown to aid Alzheimer’s patients “with memory and function.” In a study, nursing home patients were given personalized playlists on iPods and other digital devices. Exposure to each subject’s musical favourites tapped into deep memories, those not lost to dementia. Results found that residents came “back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present.” Music assisted in “face-name recognition” and was shown to stimulate certain parts of the brain.
In another study, music was shown to influence mood. When “major keys and rapid tempos” were played, happiness resulted. When “minor keys and slow tempos” were played, subjects experienced sadness. The combination of “rapid tempos together with dissonance” were found to cause fear. Music has been shown “to produce significant emotional responses,” as well as to “localize and quantify these responses within the brain.” Although it can be demonstrated that music causes emotional responses, until recently no one has been able to explain just why.
“The relationship between mathematics and music (vibrations / sound waves) is well known, and in hindsight it is obvious that mathematics, maths physics, music (sound waves) and musical instruments exist because matter is a wave structure of Space. This is why all matter vibrates and has a resonant frequency.”
(Dr. Milo Wolff, American mathematical physicist)
(Dr. Milo Wolff, American mathematical physicist)
Dancing and music antedated language. In antiquity, sound and healing were considered a “sacred science.” It was believed that music had a fundamental effect on both the mind and the body. These ideas “diverged during the later half of the 18th century.” Medicine was then associated with healing while music was deemed an entertainment vehicle. Music is part of every human culture. It always has been. It was not until after the second World War that the health benefits of music crept into the medical mindset. In recent years, “music medicine” has received even greater attention and increasing scientific consideration.
There are physical effects from music. “Simulation of chemicals in the brain” and “changes in cell structure” demonstrate how music performs on a molecular level. It also affects changes in blood flow and heart rate. Music can increase “the reaction time of muscle tissue.” Music has a psychological effect. It can calm or agitate the body and the mind. Music soothes and disturbs. It eases one’s ability to visualize and acts to divert attention away from negative environmental factors. Music influences the brain. There is a solid association between “the parts of the brain that process music and the memory centres.” Music stimulates “the reward centres that process pleasure.” The brain seems “hard-wired” for music. Parts of the brain even seem able to differentiate between various styles of music. Regions of the brain are enhanced while listening. The limbic system of the brain is aroused by certain feelings derived from a specific piece of music.
Music has a distinct effect on more spiritual aspects as well. As with meditation, it can create a point of focus for one’s mind. Music “aligns energy fields, when coupled with intention, vibration and resonance flow.” It can access internal sources renewing vitality and balance. Music can inspire, rejuvenate and assist with mental clarity. Music can activate creativity. Music can transform, impacting both behaviour and attitude. Psychoacoustics is “the study of how humans perceive sound and how we listen” to sound. There are “psychological responses to music” as well as various “physiological impacts on the human nervous system.” The brain “synthesizes music unlike any other ‘input’ and uses all of its parts to create pleasure or pain from the sounds and frequencies we hear.” These sounds can course into the brain as music and assist in the development and/or healing of body, mind and soul.
“So I say thank you for the music
The songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it
I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me”
(Thank You for the Music, ABBA 1977)
If there is one gift that my parents gave to me outside of their unconditional love, it is my appreciation of music. My earliest memories are of sitting with my father in our basement listening to old LPs of Charlie Pride and Johnny Cash. Some of my first cognitive experiences involve my Mom singing along to John Denver on the living room stereo while she baked lemon cupcakes with icing sugar sprinkles in our kitchen. From childhood to my current state of adulthood, this life has been one grand mosaic of Country, Gospel, Standards and Show tunes. Even modern rock and alternative music have permeated my consciousness. From the Mamas and the Papas to The Sound of Music; from Mozart to Nine Inch Nails; from Amy Grant to Courtney Love; song and lyric have transcended mere melody and lingered throughout my days. Like a faithful friend, music has always served me well. It has been a constant opiate and soothed my weary soul. Music is a part of me.When my Mother died, I quickly realized how ingrained her memory was with the music I have embraced as my own. Like an image symphony, my life sounds in kind. When she developed breast cancer the year before her fatal heart attack, I began to create compilation CDs for her to listen to as she recovered from her ordeal. I hoped that by using music I could bring some order to the chaos she was going through and that it would offer her strength and fortitude, easing her fear and the pain she battled throughout her last days. After her death, it is these compilations which inspired me to start blogging, using the very same music and lyrics to help me get through, and as an expression of both my grief and any solace found.
It is often strange listening to my music so far removed from that place and time. With less than a drumbeat, I am instantly transported back. Flashes of the past call out for me to listen. A simple song I have heard a hundred times can still force a journey, whether I want it to or not. Even the most obscure tune, one I have not experienced for decades, captures my senses and I relive through memory that which I knew before. Like a prelude, all those glimpses come together and carry me away. They are a tapestry of the words and melodies which have engrained themselves so deeply into my being and sang softly throughout all of my learning. Almost each one somehow connects to a moment or a feeling or a memory of something or someone. Songs of comfort from the stardust, those little stars, they twinkle so.
Every day, I am reminded how much music can give to the soul. How the lessons of life are reflected in so many of the songs I have cherished and held onto over the years. There is a power to music which theories and speculation cannot define. Each song is a source of borrowed knowledge and a piece of the universe that cannot fade or die; like little bits of the cosmos, they glimmer in the dust. It seems to me that God appears ironic making music so enchanting and wonderful. It holds “the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.” (Benjamin Britten) Even the most heart-wrenching emotion can hold great hope. The simplest things always seem to hold the greatest meaning. After all, it's not a song unless it touches you. It's not a song until it breaks you. We must understand that life is our song. We must learn to receive it and we must learn to give it back. In the long run. when everything has been said and done, unless it got through to you, it's not your song.
“And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart
You wandered down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by”
(Stardust, Nat King Cole 1957)
Lemon Cupcakes with Icing Sugar Sprinkles(Originally Posted Friday, May 28, 2010)
It’s Not a Song, Amy Grant
Straight Ahead 1984