April 17, 2013
The Power Music
I lay in my bed listening to the endless stream of music coming through my headphones. My iTunes is on shuffle, some songs I skip but most of them I let play without interference. Zoning out only enough to let my mind wonder, I relax and take in the sounds surrounding me. I feel restful, at piece. A brief moment of silence from the time one song ends and another begins. I hear the first five notes on a piano -- instantly, I have a lump in my throat, my heart quickens, and my eyes begin to sting. “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers has just come on. After fifteen seconds of a piano introduction, Rogers’ soothing voice starts in, “I can’t remember when you weren’t there… I am reminded of my family. I am taken back to a time when all my grandparents were still alive and well. My father’s mother’s face comes into view, she has been gone twelve years but I can almost feel her presence. I think of the love my family and I have for each other. I think of my sister. My cheeks and ears begin to feel warm. The air I’m breathing suddenly becomes thick, my vision is blurred by the water filling my eyes. The chorus begins, “Through the years…” My eyes overflow and tears silently fall down my face. After the second chorus the song builds on itself, it rises and keeps on rising. The tension is broken by Rogers’ voice full of love and sincerity at the bridge. I have graduated from softly crying to full on sobbing. My face, my ears, my neck and my pillow are wet with tears. What I am crying about, I am not entirely certain of. What I am certain of, however, is that this wave of emotion that I am drowning in was induced solely by this song. Now in the fetal position, cuddling the blanket and bear that I have had since I was born, I gasp and choke a deep breath in and cough it out as I sob. “As long as it’s okay / I’ll stay with you / Through the years” The song ends, and after a short while I return to the restful state I was in prior to my breakdown, noticeably more tired. All of this because of a song. This experience and countless others like it (varying in memories and emotions) that made me wonder about the power of music. We have all been influenced by music at one point in our lives; goose bumps, shivers, hair standing on end, tears, dancing, tapping to the beat. Music is all around us, and it is there no matter where you go; it transcends borders and cultures, it is the one universal thing that does. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best: “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Music has the ability to elicit emotions and trigger memories of our past, transporting us to a specific moment or time in our lives. Music can help us cope, the proof of this is in the success of break-up songs. We rely on music. But, what is it about music that makes it so powerful? How is it able to influence us the way it does? Studying music from a scientific approach is relatively new practice, especially music and its effects on the brain. Thanks to advances in neuroscience such a study is made possible. Neuroscientists use fMRI and PET scans to study the brain and what music does to it. When we listen to music different parts of our brain are stimulated. What scientists have learned is that music activates more areas of the brain than anything else. Elena Mannes, author of the book The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song, identifies some of parts and functions of the brain that are used to process music: …the auditory cortex (first stage in the listening process, perception and analysis of tones), the motor cortex (foot tapping, playing an instrument), the prefrontal cortex (the creation of expectations triggered by musical patterns and the violation of patterns/expectations), the sensory cortex (tactile feedback, as in playing an instrument), the visual cortex (reading music), the nucleus...
Cited: Chanda, M. L. and Daniel J. Levitin. “The Neurochemistry of Music.” Trends in
Cognitive Sciences 17.4 (2013): 179-193. Web.
Kunz, Matthew J. Personal interview. 8 April 2013.
Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New
York: Penguin, 2007. Print.
Mannes, Elena. The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song.
New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2011. Print.
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