The fabric of our lives are richly woven with threads of music. On a typical day you might switch on the radio to hear your “waking-up tunes” while eating breakfast, then continue listening in the car on the way to work or school. Sitting in a traffic jam you might tap out some drum riffs on the steering wheel; your exercise routines are timed to the music pumping into your ears; and on the way to the dentist’s office you hum a little tune to calm yourself. In the evening, you pick up your instrument to practice or jam with friends. You might also have a weekly choral or community band rehearsal.
What kind of music are you choosing? One woman told me she loves hearing bagpipe music while cleaning the house – it thoroughly energizes her. At my home recently, a friend had papers spread all over the floor to sort while I was busy with my own tasks in the same room. Listening to crossover country music lightened the mood for both of us and made the tasks go easier. We know what kind of music we hunger for at any given time, just like we know what kind of food our bodies need. Have you felt claustrophobic in a cramped office all day? Gregorian Chant can create a sense of spaciousness and reduce stress. Do you need to think clearly as you study for an important test? Slow Baroque music can give a sense of order and stability and is helpful for mental work. If your brain feels overworked, try Impressionist music to induce daydreaming and facilitate creativity. Or maybe you need the cathartic beat of classic rock to get you moving and release tension.
Some music will be associated with a time from our past – but it’s not just our memories that are stimulated. It’s our feelings that we get to re-experience through the music. Karl Paulnack, director of Boston Conservatory, calls music “containers for our experiences.” In a keynote speech given to the 2013 TMEA convention in San Antonio, he says music is one of the top factors that stimulate neuroplasticity in the brain; this means the ability to make connections in new and different ways and is the essence of creativity. The recipe for making creative brains also includes exercise, play, and numinous experience. This is great news since music pairs so well with each of the other elements: Music plus movement (exercise, dance); music plus play (improvising new sound combinations); music as an experience of something bigger than ourselves (such as when we make music with a group of other people). It’s even possible to combine all four elements for a group-music-movement-improv Experience Extraordinaire.
It would be difficult to imagine a day without music. Although we need periods of silence each day, and I would prefer not to hear so much sonic clutter in public places, music is a blessing in my life. Whether I’m hearing a tune in my head as I go about my day, or I’m teaching a piece of music to a student that they’ll own for the rest of their lives, music is part of who I am. There’s nothing special or unusual about this. I suspect this is the way it’s been since the very beginning, when humans discovered we had a voice and began using it to express everything we felt and to accompany everything we did.
Let’s continue to weave the tapestry of our lives with music.
To view Dr. Paulnack’s speech go to: http://www.tmea.org/resources/advocacy/materials/2013-keynote