Thursday, June 24, 2010

Melodies, Mind and Body

When we are young, music speaks to us of the life before us, where there are many possibilities. Many older people may summon nostalgic memories. Since many people are now living longer, hearing some inspiring music or seeing some great live performances may still spark ideas of things yet to come.

Music communicates in many ways, on many levels. It encourages us to dance, engaging the senses, and it also sets our mind off in different directions. It keeps both mind and body limber.

Just as lyrics in music are stored in a different part of the brain than spoken words, it would seem that the memories triggered by songs can bring up associations from our subconscious in seemingly random patterns.

Music has its own history. It may have been created in a certain time or place and it can evoke memories, although the people who heard it when it was new may have very different memories associated with it than those who hear it a long time later.

Interestingly, the composer's intentions mean a lot to them when they are creating the music, but most listeners might enjoy it without ever knowing anything about those intentions. Quite amazing when you think about it, but it points to one simple truth. Just as we have no idea what a painter was thinking when they painted a picture, although we might enjoy looking at it and find ourselves appreciating it and being inspired by the finished product, the same thing happens when we hear a song we like the sound of. We may not ever know what the composer had in mind during the creation process, but we savor, and may be inspired by, the finished product.

So that gives music a unique power. Say, for example, hearing a popular piece of music reminds one person of an old lover from years ago, while another person hearing the same piece of music might have a memory of a career transition, or a summer vacation. Yet, hearing a piece of popular music can massage these emotional touchstones for millions of people at the same time in different ways.

The power of the melody has to be the unifying factor, even though lyrics are bound to send different people's minds off in different directions.

What is often suggested by music that we remember from when we were young is that there was a time when we looked at the world and saw a place where everything was possible. For many of us, good music still does.

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