Music has always had a significant impact on people and their culture for as long as history can remember. It has the mystical ability to grab people’s attention, twist their emotions, and give comfort to those in need in a way no human could ever imitate. How did music- the intangible concept of melodies and rhythms, harmonies and structures – become a vital, irreplaceable part of humanity, and how does music actually remedy people?
Back in 1939, 5 weeks after Britain declared war on Germany, all theatres and concert halls were forbidden to hold any form of show or performance, and any pieces of art in museums were taken away into storage. Life for the citizens in Britain was fearful and depressing, and it seemed as if hope was long lost for all. In this desperate and seemingly hopeless time, pianist Myra Hess hosted a series of low-cost chamber music concerts to comfort war-bound citizens and give them hope that eventually, their lives would return to normal again. This simple act raised the affection of many British citizens, and indeed provided them with hope and comfort throughout the hard times.
Myra Hess’s music comforted so many people because music has a significant impact on human emotion. Researchers at Stanford University have quoted that “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.” It is hard to explain in detail how music does this, as it is merely an intangible concept of art that is hard to grasp scientifically. But music can be viewed as a language; a language of emotion that represents various feelings from immense depression to extreme happiness, which stimulates emotions like empathy, nostalgia, and sympathy. A slow beat makes us feel the emotion conveyed in it and makes us sympathise with it. A fast beat conveys the excitement contained in each note and rhythm. Like such, music stimulates our emotions and provides comfort, and conveys various emotions.
Music can also act as a remedy for physical discomforts. Scientists say that music helps cure arthritis, improves the memory of patients with Altzheimers, and helps break the emotional wall of patients with autism. It also increases the number of anticancer cells and boosts immunity. Consequently, many doctors use music as a way to cure various diseases and to provide remedy to ill patients. Mickey Hart, the drummer of the rock band ‘Grateful Dead’, has proven that music can reverse the memory of a patient with Altzheimers, and increase the frequency of serum melatonin and help them fall asleep faster.
To prove his point, he referred to neurologist Oliver Sacks’ anecdote. In the human brain, there is a collection of nuclei called the ‘amygdala’. According to Sacks, the amygdala has an adjacent relationship to the emotions of humans, and thus also manages memories related to music, such as the memory of the first song you ever danced to, the song you listened to with a loved one, or the song you enjoyed the most in your youth. Therefore, unless the patient lacks the presence of an amygdala in their brain, music can stimulate lost memories and help the recovery of those suffering in both emotional and physical diseases.
Like such, music plays a vital role in human health, both physically and emotionally. If we were to trace back in history, Musical therapy has been carried out in ancient Egypt, Tibet, India, Athens, and Rome. Ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras taught his students to control their emotions through music. As wisely put by a certain author, music is a medicine that does not need a prescription, and has no side effects. Next time, when your parents scold you for listening to too much music, tell them, with a straight face, that you are healing your inner emotions – although I do not take responsibility for what might happen next!
Chair of Sonitas