Though music has always played a large part in the lives of those who make it, scientists today are discovering just how important it is to society as a whole. Obvious to many are the emotional responses we get when we hear music: it stimulates old memories, causes us to calm down or feel other emotions, and can even inspire us for the future. Now, studies are showing that it actually builds new pathways in the brain, strengthens old ones, and contributes a completely unique type of neurological stimulation.
This only reaffirms that our job as musicians is extremely important. Not only does music help us live fulfilling lives, but it also helps society like nothing else can.
This is something to be extremely proud of. There are cases everywhere of people who were injured or traumatized and were able to come out of their hopeless state and heal through music. Here are five such cases that will make you feel very proud to be a musician.
1. A Senator Sings Out
When Senator Gabrielle Giffords survived a brutal assassination attempt outside of Tucson in 2011, she was left disabled and unable to walk or speak. However, she soon regained all of her speech facilities after being submitted to music therapy.
Though she could not speak, with help, she was soon able to sing. Through singing, she was able to gradually restore her ability to talk and communicate, and was even able to return to Congress for a period of time, though she later resigned to focus on completing her recovery.
2. Students Helping Students
College can be incredibly intense, and in order to help reduce stress levels amongst students and staff, UCLA started their Healthy Campus Initiative. Part of the initiative is call Mindful Music, a serious of weekly 30-minute concerts put on by other students.
At the beginning and end of every concert, surveys are handed out asking the audience how they feel prior to the music vs. how they feel after the concert has ended. Though the volume of data necessary to make a conclusion has yet to be obtained, many students who attend the concerts reporting feeling lower stress levels and an enjoyment for the break in their hectic schedules.
3. Silent Spectator
Taylor McPherson found out, after suffering from constant headaches, that she actually had a ruptured blood vessel in her brain. As with Senator Giffords' case, she was put into a medically induced coma after surgery and woke up unable to talk. However, she also woke up with a case of amnesia.
Upon returning from her coma, she suffered from a lot of confusion since she could not remember who her parents were (who had been with her the entire time). Not only was she suffering from the confusion, but she couldn't express it either.
Ever present was Taylor's music therapist, who continued to play guitar and sing to her, and eventually, Taylor's voice began to return. At the encouragement of her therapist, she tried to sing about her feelings, and the more she sang, the more she remembered. By the end of the process, she had her voice and memory back, as well as a fully formed new original song entitled "Keep Your Head Held High."
Much like the case involving Senator Giffords, it would seem that music travels and builds up different pathways within the brain, making the mind much stronger and connecting the hemispheres like nothing else can.
4. Song for a Soldier
World War II was considered to be the bloodiest conflict in recorded history. When surrounded by more death than is realistically imaginable, one soldier was able to use music as a way to communicate what no words could.
On a muddy evening two weeks after D-Day, Jack Leroy Tueller and his crew were waiting anxiously for the last German sniper that was watching them to be eliminated. Feeling stressed, Tueller pulled out his trumpet to calm down, despite the wishes of his Commander.
Believing that the sniper was likely feeling just as scared and alone as they were, he decided to play out a famous German love song to try and ease the mutual tension. Sure enough, a military police truck drove up to their camp the following morning containing some recently captured prisoners, one of which was the last sniper. After inquiring about who the trumpet player was, he explained that the song made him think about his family back home in Germany, and he could not bring himself to fire after hearing it and gave himself up instead.
Music, it seems, can heal and inspire more than one type of mind wound. It strengthens the mind, inspires memories, and comforts the distressed.
5. Voices for the Voiceless
When a young singer named Crystal Goh lost her voice as the result of an unusual medial condition, she was devastated, and isolated herself from other people. After gradually regaining her ability to speak two years later, she started singing again, and out came a song that was able to express the joy that she felt after recovering her voice.
This inspired an idea, and the Diamonds On The Street project was born. She reached out to communities of at-risk children and children whose parents were in prison and inspired them to take their sorrow and pain and put the feelings into song. This first project resulted in a five-track album and two live performances with the children. Today, Diamonds On The Street is still going strong and has a solid team behind it.
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.