Monday, July 14, 2014

Musical Interlude

I picked up the recent copy of National Geographic that was on the coffee table and held it up to my husband. The cover had an image of a planet with "Is there anybody out there?" in large block letters accompanying it. I said, "Do you know what the next thing that popped into my mind was?" I got a puzzled stare. "Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?" He laughed. Okay, it was one word off the actual Pink Floyd lyrics, but my brain continually makes associations with things that I see, read or hear with song lyrics that then get stuck in my head for extended periods of time making my relationship with music…complicated. Freeing myself from one song often just means replacing it with another. The phenomena even follows me into my dreams. One particularly beautiful repeating dream where I am wandering through the most incredible museum in existence uses Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's as an integral element.


"Musical Interlude" Acrylic by Rebecca Zook


Mostly I like the way music affects my emotional state. I always awake from the museum dream bathed in tranquility and find myself humming Moon River throughout the rest of the day. One song can draw me out of a bout of self pity. Music can dissipate anger or in an instant bring back vivid recollections that only seemed long forgotten. Researchers theorize that melody helps embed memories. I know I can still 'sing' the preamble to the Constitution thanks to the Saturday morning School House Rock of my childhood. These properties are being used to help dementia patients. Even those who have ceased normal communication have been known to spontaneously sing or have music noticeably calm them. 

Unlike my sisters, I never learned to play an instrument though at one time I could pluck out simple tunes on a piano and guitar, but I always liked singing. I have vivid memories of sitting on my parent's bed listening to records of children's songs and trying to imitate the lilting notes of the voices I heard of the accomplished adults singing. Then I tried adding my own melodies to the existing ones, weaving them in and out of the base rhythms. Experimenting with sound just like I'd experiment with my paints. Building neurons in the process. I still do this on my long drive to and from work. Long ago I ceased caring what other drivers thought when they saw me belting out a song; soundless from the point of view of their self contained world, but making me wonder what the neighbors thought of me swinging in the backyard and singing at the top of my lungs when I was a child.


Music activates so many areas of the brain from auditory and motor to limbic (emotion regions). One study I read years ago disputed the myth that you needed to listen to classical to reap the benefits. Whether it was Bach or Def Leppard (and I like them both), the positive benefits of music relied most on your own personal preferences. Like food and sex, music also releases the pleasure inducing chemical dopamine into our system. Another study even linked increased Immunoglobulin A with listening to music or singing and a decrease in cortisol levels which can be an indicator of stress. The net result, an overall boost to the immune system. 


My husband and I attended a live concert at a small venue recently. We had seen this musician before, but I was tickled to see the excitement of a friend who had not seen him perform and had no idea what to expect. My friend, like me, has had severe health issues throughout her life. She was in hospice at one point and not expected to make the night. Fortunately they didn't tell her that. She walked out the front door and back to a productive life. She turned to me during a break in the concert and credited music, healing music, as part of what brought her back. I believe it.


My advice. Turn off the TV for awhile, close your eyes and relax. Listen to your hearts desire whether it's Reba McEntire, Mannheim Steamroller, or Megadeath. 


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