By Johanna Carney, Staff Writer
“Without music, life would be a mistake” -Freidrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
What is your relationship with music? Is your car radio always on? Are you one of those people who look for a new station as soon as the advertisements begin, or do you wait patiently through commercials for the next song to start? Do you sing along? Are you a shower singer? Do you always listen to the same genre of music, or does it change based on your mood?
I think our answers to those questions must tell us a lot about who we are. After all, one of the first questions we ask when getting to know someone new is, “What kind of music do you listen to?”
Music is transportive. This is something we tend to learn when we are young by watching our parents. That father who goes to work in a business suit and stresses over numbers can turn into a hard-rocking teenager before our eyes when a song from his glory days comes on the radio. Those songs from our youth have the power to turn us into the people we once were, in a place we used to be, if only for a few moments.
I grew up surrounded by music. I have the tiniest memory of my mom singing me a lullaby once, from my preschool years. But in general, it was Dad who made the music. He and his twin brother played the guitar and the harmonica together. And they sang. Oh, how they loved to sing! Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan were there favorites, it seemed. In nearly every photograph I have of my dad, there is a guitar in his hand.
As I got older, I started to sing along with them sometimes. Most of the time it seemed like they barely even noticed if any of us kids were there watching, or joining in, so lost in the music were they. But apparently they did notice. One day my dad started asking me to practice singing a song when I got home from school, because we were going to sing it together after supper. I never did get good at that song; it is just completely in the wrong key for me to ever be able to sing well. But I never hear it without thinking of Dad and remembering all of those good times. It’s a happy memory I get to relive through the power of music.
I don’t know about you, but when music is playing, I have to sing. Even when a song comes on that I don’t care for, I’ll eventually find myself singing along. For me, music is an interactive experience, and I’m all in. That girl you see driving down the highway singing along to the music like her life depends on how loud she can be? That’s me. And I’ll let you in on a secret: the radio may not even be on.
My favorite songs often have lyrics about a woman who has been emotionally beaten down, or has been shortchanged in life, but who finds the strength to do something powerful or brave. I’m not sure why they resonate with me. It has nothing to do with my own life, really, but those stories never fail to grab my attention and touch my heart.
The power music can have to affect how we think and feel is obvious by how pervasive it is. Shopping for groceries? That music in the background is designed to make you linger so you’ll spend more. Putting gas in your car? That music you hear makes you file that trip away as a pleasant experience so you’ll return to the same gas station next time. Watching TV? Whether it’s a few notes or several verses, all of our favorite shows have theme songs that are instantly recognizable to us. And at the ball game, every batter is introduced to his own personal theme song.
Research tells us that a love affair with music is good for our brains. Babies who were given music “lessons” (essentially they were sang to or allowed to bang on drums) communicated better and smiled more than other babies. Children who have music training do better than their non-musical peers in math, language, and reading, as well as improving their fine motor skills. Even just a 30 minute lesson increases blood flow in the left hemisphere of the brain. Office workers who were allowed to choose music to listen to completed their tasks more quickly, and were able to come up with better ideas. And, music therapy has had a huge impact on the lives of many Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Since music memories tend to outlast other types of memories, patients often light up and even sing along when songs that are familiar to them are played.
All in all, it seems that the soundtrack to our lives can be pretty important. Have you just experienced a break-up? Listen to some sad songs, it will help you heal. Are you planning a tough workout? Crank up some tunes with a beat to keep you motivated. Would you like to turn acquaintances into friends? Karaoke is a great bonding experience.
So turn that radio up! Grab your drumsticks, your banjo, your saxophone, or even your kazoo and jam on. It’s good for you!