Music: Life’s Tonic

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Think about your favorite singer or genre; now think of your mom or dad’s. What do they have in common?

You may be thinking, “Well my dad’s favorite singer is May Erlewine and mine is Ariana Grande. There’s nothing remotely similar about these two artists and their music.” Yeah, maybe on the surface, but think a little harder – how do they make you feel? Happy, calm, energized? Whatever the feeling, the overall effect the music has on you is what makes you love that musician.

A recent review in the World Journal of Psychiatry found that music improves one’s mood, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. Even sad music has been shown to have these kinds of positive effects on one’s life by acting as an “empathizer” for any pain that the individual has gone through.

Barry Goldstein, a recording artist who, for over 25 years, has studied the vibrational effects of music, said that music as a whole can “evoke emotion, help regain memories, stimulate new neural connections, and activate attention.”

Now think about May Erlewine and Ariana Grande again – don’t you and your dad’s feelings after listening to these singers coincide with these findings? Now do you see what the singers have in common? 

Music, whether it’s singing or playing an instrument, can benefit your life. Playing an instrument requires the use of fine motor skills using both sides of the brain, executive function, and total sensory input. I bet just reading that you were thinking “Wow, that sounds complex,” so imagine playing an instrument and actually implementing all those things – it’s a total brain workout!

You may also be thinking, “But this is only helpful to kids who have started at a young age.” I’m here to tell you that studies show that even just short periods of musical training at any point in your life, even in your 70s, can improve your long-term memory, reaction times, hearing, and multisensory skills. So, if your grandma or grandpa is looking for a way to pass the time, maybe introduce them to an instrument.

As a member of Punahou’s Symphony Orchestra since freshman year, which meets every morning at 7:30, I have experienced all of these effects of music firsthand. At first, I dreaded the 7:30 mornings, but then I began to love starting my day playing music. Orchestra allowed me to ease into the day with the melodic sounds of Beethoven instead of being slapped in the face by a STEM class. I could release any stress I had and start my day fresh.

Playing music gives me an outlet to express myself and play with others and has created a balance in my life that I definitely wouldn’t find elsewhere. 

And I’m not the only one. Members of Punahou’s Music Community shared their views on playing vs listening to music.

Mie Dunbar ’21, former member of Punahou’s Chorale, said, “listening to music enhances my emotions while singing music expresses them.”

Malia Dunaway ’21, a member of Punahou’s Guitar Ensemble II, agreed with her, saying “listening to music for me is more about relating to other people to ease my mind, whereas playing is more about finding what I have to say to ease my heart.”

Especially now, during COVID, playing music has been a way for me to escape the realities of the world and has given me a way to stay connected with my classmates, school, and community. 

Dr. Jonas Carlson, Director of Academy Orchestras, shared how music has helped him during COVID, saying, “I go, and I grab my cello, open up music that I never had time to learn back in those days; definitely that helps me. It puts my mind in a much better place.”

Dunbar added that, “Music has been a great companion during these stressful COVID times,” and that “there are certain songs that will always remind me of the beginning of COVID.” This past year was a once in a lifetime experience, and when looking back at it, certain songs will bring back every memory and emotion that we were feeling.

Music provides a way for people to meet and bond with each other, either over their shared love of an artist or their shared love of music. Just the simple question, “What kind of music do you like?” can spark a whole conversation about artists, genres, instruments, and the emotions you feel from each of these.

Music in all forms is beneficial to every aspect of your life, from the scientific side to the more emotional side. Everyone, especially right now, should continue to find ways to incorporate it into their lives. Who knows, music may be why you smile for the first time in a while, why you remember your last day of school outfit, or how you meet your best friend.