Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sing through this

Yesterday I was listening to NPR on my way to pick up the kids from school.  Talk of the Nation was on at that time.  Usually, I grow frustrated during the call-in part of the show, impatient with the stories that may or may not pertain to the subject.  Sometimes I know within a few seconds of listening whether the topic will be engaging for me or not and decide whether to stay tuned.  The guests yesterday were discussing the power of music to heal and it was the first time ever I wanted to call in and participate.  My head flooded with examples of when this had happened for me - so many choir experiences in college, playing the piano after school, singing with a friend a cappella, listening to a song over and over because it hit an emotional chord, for better or worse.  The year I played Patti Griffin's Living with Ghosts non-stop was not a happy year.  The guests on the show talked about the neurological reasons that music can calm and soothe.  One guest, Stacy Horn, has written a book called Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness In Singing With Others.  The other guest, Daniel Levitin, is a psychology professor at McGill University and he, too, has written a book, This Is Your Brain on Music. Both guests reminded me of interviews I've heard in the past with Oliver Sacks, recalling stories from his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

Let me just say this: I haven't read any of these books yet and cannot vouch for how interesting they are.  Let me just add:  I want to read all of these books!

What occurred to me, as I autopiloted down the road, fascinated by the conversation, was that yes, music has been balm to me so many times, but it has also helped me focus.  I'm not sure I realized it at the time, but when I studied as a high school student and undergrad, I usually had my earphones strapped on to my head.  I didn't strictly listen to instrumental pieces, like you'd think, although I had a George Winston/Windham Hill syrupy sad music period in the late 80s.  In college, I turned to the repetitive rhythm of Philip Glass and swear that I owe him the "A" I received on my Modern British Lit final paper.  Often I found the more boisterous the music, the better I could focus, especially on math.

©2012 Daniele Barraco

Speed up time to the present and I realize that I still use music to help me concentrate.  If I have a tedious task ahead of me, say folding laundry or cleaning the fridge, there is nothing like slamming in the Iggy Pop and playing that shit loud.  I find that I get the job done quickly and efficiently.  Sometimes I even enjoy it a little.  And sometimes the neighbors might see me violently shaking my head to the beat through the windows.

So basically, I've been self-medicating for years . . . on music.

Do you have a particular song or album that helps you focus or cope?  What it is?