Music And Old Memory

Yesterday I was on the phone with my almost 82-years old mother. Thanks to the modern communication technology we are talking together often, and she can even see her grandchildren once in a while on the tablet screen, even if we are continents apart. And it is painful to witness how she is slowly deteriorating, not only physically, but also mentally. Her once fantastic memory is failing her and she is fully aware of the fact, that she is not anymore able to remember her favorite recipes she used to prepare for us for years, her once bottomless source of family stories has become very thin and repetitive, and more often than not she has even hard time to remember what she had eaten for lunch that day.
During our recent phone call with my mom, somehow I mentioned a few words we used to say in our family, which as it happens to be, are the first line from one of the famous communist youth songs from the years ago. And she just got immediately ignited and started to sing the song – and went all the way through to the finish. Without one mistake!
I was flabbergasted. Although I have been studying benefits music can have on elderly people and their wellbeing and memory, this was the first time I got to experience it right in front of my eyes / ears. And my visibly excited and happy mother realized the situation and explained her personal story of this song, that is not happy at all.
The song she was singing and that she remembered that well, was the one, she was forced to sing every day for years, when she was studying at the high-school. These were early fifties, the most oppressive times of the communist regime in former Czechoslovakia, and my mother was the daughter of a locomotive engineer – a member of a railways workers union, or so called the ‘blue aristocracy’ thanks to their blue uniforms. Because of her father, she was considered to be potentially dangerous enemy of the communist regime and her high-school teachers followed her every step and made sure that she wouldn’t bring any ‘inappropriate’ ideas that could have impacted other classmates. As still a young teenager, she was a great target to brainwash her and to mold her into the ‘correct’ communist format. Mom didn’t have any other choice if she wanted to graduate, just to play the game and show her loyalty, among many other things, by standing in the first line and singing communist proletariat anthems. And although she has never become member of the communist party, their propaganda songs managed to survive in my mother’s old memory to these days almost untouched. Such is the power of music, even if it is more negative, like in this case of my mother.

“The man who disparages music as a luxury and non-essential is doing the nation an injury. Music now, more than ever before, is a national need. There is no better way to express patriotism than through music.”

— Woodrow Wilson —

Healthy adults don’t attract scientist enough

“When music is utilized in knowledgeable ways, evidence suggests it can have positive effects.” — Raymond MacDonald

Recently I have been reading a number of books and research papers about an impact the active music participation has on humans. And what surprises me is that there is a substantial gap in the demographics most of these writings are focusing on – healthy adults.
Everything starts with various studies focused on music and yet unborn children, and continues with many researchers working with children and young adults up to 24 years old. And then comes the gap of some forty years (or roughly two generations), thinly overarched by researching therapeutic impact on people with special needs. Then, again, much more light is being put on elderly people and how they can benefit from active music participation.
This leaves mostly untouched people in their most productive years from 25 to 65! This approach in partly understandable, as active music making can have huge impact on young generation in their most formative years. Elderly, on the other hand, have more health issues due to aging, where music (whether active or passive listening) is being used quite successfully. Also, these demographics have potentially less time constrains, so they may be more available for research.
But why are healthy adults omitted in many studies? Is it because after growing up from their music studies, they put their tired music instruments into closets and have become only passive consumers of the music industry products? Or they lack sufficient time, energy and motivation to either maintain, or further develop their already acquired musicality, even to pursue something completely new?
This is where I see a huge opportunity for artistic interventions – in focusing on people in their most active stages of life, and helping them improve quality of life through active music participation. This opportunity stands in front of academics and researchers on one side, but much more than that, it is on the side of music educators, professional musicians and specialized consultants and professionals, whose role should be to make active music-making a.k.a. musicking – available, understandable and enjoyable to these demographics.
In particular, I see the opportunity in organizing and supporting community and work-place choir singing, drumming circles, community and work-place orchestras and music bands, music composing and songwriting workshops, improvisation groups, music classes and jam-sessions at work-place.
Active music participation in a work-place setting is a great opportunity for employers to reap the benefits music offers. Among results such an approach represents directly to the bottom line, we could count: better employees wellbeing and health representing lower absenteeism and turnover; less stress and better work environment; better teamwork; more efficient management and leadership; more creative thinking and innovative ideas; more fun and motivation.
Commoditized music recordings are nowadays aimed to audience referred as ‘users’ of fast growing streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. I believe that much better approach to ‘using music’ is actually to make it, and participate in that making actively. That unique experience cannot be replaced by passive listening to any music recording.

The emotion generated by a work of art, be it poetry, painting, or music, may be that tangible, unquestionable feeling of a broadening of the self. It is a feeling of fullness, borne from a mysterious rhythm, a kind of flight toward the infinite, lived as a sharing, an exchange, whose source is our interior world.

–Daisaku Ikeda–

Belt Out a Song for Better Health

Interesting article briefly summarizing singing benefits described  in a book by Michael Miller M.D., called Heal Your Heart:

‘Opening our mouths for a bite of the proverbial “apple a day” has its place—but to really keep the doctor away, we should open wide and let out some songs. Why? Because singing has numerous health benefits, recent research shows. And the rewards are ours even if we warble off-key or forget half the lyrics.’

As Dr. Miller explains, bursting into song can:

  • Make you happier and more relaxed
  • Promote cardiovascular health
  • Provide aerobic and respiratory benefits
  • Build strength
  • Think of the world as your stage
  • Be a songwriter
  • Join a musical group
  • Try karaoke
  • Go “caroling” – any time of year

The whole article.

There are also benefits for our heart’s health, which include eliciting positive emotions and easing stress. Dr. Miller writes in his book: “Musical taste aside, it’s clear that music of any genre has a physiological effect not only on heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, but also on the lining of our blood vessels. The endothelium, that barometer of emotions, dilates to the music the listener finds joyful and constricts during music that provokes the stress response.” There are three ways that music benefits our heart:

  1. Heart Rate Variability – Music can help train your HRV to be more adaptive. Your heart gets used to changing its rate based on the tempo of the music that you are listening. And thus gets used to being more flexible.
  2. Inflammation – Researchers have begun to look into how music can have anti-inflammatory effects on the heart. And they have come to the conclusion that soothing music can improve parasympathetic tone and reduce episodes of congestive heart failure.
  3. Faster Recovery – Dr. Miller discusses a number of studies including one in particular that involved patients who were allowed to listen to their choice of music while undergoing heart surgery. The postoperative time spent in the surgical ICU for those assigned to music was reduced from nearly 28 hours to 22 hours. At first glance, this may not seem like a much shorter period of time, but if you are a patient, the quicker you can be moved out of the ICU to a quieter and more private area, the closer you are to recovery, hospital discharge, and rehabilitation.

The whole article.

Work or Art?

“What people do, quite naturally is – if it is work, they try to figure out how to do less; if it is art, they try to figure out how to do more.”

Seth Godin

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”

Victor Hugo