Rowena and I have just returned from a family gathering. It’s something that I and my siblings do every year in January to celebrate our mother’s life, check-in with each other and enjoy the conversation that a year’s absence brings. Our partners, children, extended family and friends all get an invitation and we take 3 to 4 days together with friends, new and old, dropping by as they can.
It’s become something of a tradition and was birthed by a promise we made each other as we sat with mum while her life was slowly extinguished by the effects of a massive stroke. The promise was that we would do what we are doing, gather together every year. It is wonderful that we’ve sustained that for 10 years now. Each gathering offers laughter, love, deep conversation and sometimes challenges as we explore different memories of our life, together and separately.
What has become apparent, apart from the wonderful people attending, is the role that music seems to play in the harmonics of our meeting. I’m not sure about you but I have memories absolutely anchored in time and music. Certain songs still evoke very powerful emotions locked onto not only the more extreme experiences in my life but also those benign moments of rising self-awareness, peace and love.
It’s a great connection and one which as kids we have in common although as we got into our teens and were able to explore a broader range of music, tastes changed and that has led to some really interesting exploration now as we age.
It is no surprise then that studies demonstrate the importance of music. Recent research shows that music can help in many ways and has a powerful effect on the brain including memory, acquired brain injury, pain reduction and relieving stress. In the book The Power of Music, Elena Mannes says “Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function”. Even Plato recognised the power of music. That wonderful teacher and philosopher is quoted as saying “Music gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”.
Music can literally change the brain and affect mood, engaging emotion, memory, learning and attention and encourages neuroplasticity. Music is both a physical and emotional experience and is instrumental in releasing oxytocin, the “love” hormone, when we are bonding socially or physically. Picture a mother singing a lullaby to her new baby. It creates peak emotional experiences that release dopamine which affects the brain’s reward and pleasure centre and connects the heart (feelings/emotion) and brain (awareness) and I can relate to that.
With the availability of streaming services, this year we listened and talked a lot about music and memories. We shared old favourites and introduced each other to new artists, bands and performers which has had me come away from our gathering with a list for listening that could take me all year.
Apparently, we are what we listen to! That’s the amazing thing about music. There’s a song for every emotion.
Enjoy what you discover this year and share it.