I have often thought about the significant effect that music has on my life. I am not going to spend this post musing about the benefits of playing classical symphonies to your developing child while they are in the womb. I want to look at how music affects us as we go about our days. Many people will use music as the soundtracks for their life, and those soundtracks change over time. In fact, many of us equate a certain song to strong feelings about seasons in our past. Music is very nostalgic for many of us, and can evoke an array of feelings from joy, to loss, to anger.
What DO we connect with when we listen to music?
Some individuals connect with the physical sound of the music – the harshness of the drums and screeching guitars found in hard rock or the mellow, quiet strumming found in folk music.
Others find they connect with the words – the lyrics expressing their deep-seated emotions in ways that they could never put into words.
At other times, the song or music may not be specifically chosen by an individual, but the song playing in the background of society at the time caused an association nonetheless. For example, I was married in South Africa during the summer they hosted the world cup. My wedding will forever be associated in my mind with the songs from the World Cup Album, that played in every location we visited in Cape Town during that entire summer. Every time I hear Waka Waka or Viva Africa, they bring up strong emotional reminders of that special time. These are not necessarily the songs I would have chosen to have an emotional and sentimental association with my wedding (I might have chosen something a bit more romantic) but, nonetheless, culture at the time was the dictator and those are what ended up making the cut in my personal nostalgia department.
I believe I can learn a lot about a person by the music they listen to. I know with certainty that there is a reason my students with intense repressed anger find themselves drawn to death rock and my staff members who are young and happy are drawn to local variations of pop music. It is no surprise that depressed individuals may find their way to sad, old folk songs or a host of ballads (particularly if they have just broken off a relationship – there are many ballads for that!) Country music can also provide an outlet for the release of intense emotions (sadness, love, joy).
More often than not, it would seem that our moods dictate our choices in music. The music then becomes a reflection, a mirror of what is going on within us. The music reinforces what we feel inside. What would happen if we changed this cause-effect relationship? We know that many people will complain of getting headaches when they listen to death rock music. Therefore, we see that music can easily influence our feelings and emotions (and even our physical health!) So, what if we were to have a depressed person, after they released their emotions through sad songs, listen to happy pop music? Is it possible that the music itself could have the therapeutic ability to assist in lifting their attitude? What if the student drawn to death rock suddenly was asked to listen to country music? Is it possible that this would subtly influence the deep inner rage?
Why don’t you try it in your life? The next time you are feeling angry or down, first choose music that allows you to connect with those angry or sad feelings. Play a few songs that express all of the pent-up emotions you cannot manage to find a way to release. Then, choose music that you are normally drawn to when you feel most happy and alive. See if by changing your music choices you are indeed changing the way you feel (without having to pay a huge therapy bill!)