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?

10 comments:

  1. Great blog post! I can definitely relate to this. I've found that I need music to focus to write, though after about a half an hour or so I take the headphones off and can work in silence. It's a weird habit thing for me, I guess.

    Depending on my mood and what I'm writing I'll go between listening to the "reading" mix on www.stereomood.com or some indie mix on www.songza.com. Right now actually I'm listening to the "warm-weather wandering" mix: http://songza.com/listen/warm-weather-wandering-songza/

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Emily! Glad to have your comment and also glad to know I'm not alone. Often when I write, I situate myself in a loud coffee shop. It took me a year in college to realize the quiet library was making me anxious.

      I'll have to check out your music links. Lately, I've been writing without music, but I run off-course and check my Facebook or Twitter too much.

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  2. I find this really interesting. I don't have the same appreciation for music. Although I do like to listen to music of all types, it's a huge distraction to me when I'm trying to study or read or think. I don't find it self-medicating at all...My dad was like you are--he could have the music blaring and sit there and read. I also don't have a very good sense of rhythm, so perhaps that is why! ;)

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    1. Hi Deborah,
      Lately, I haven't been listening to as much music while writing. Not like I did when I was younger. Strangely, I need it more when I'm doing tedious tasks or working with numbers. When I grade papers The New Pornographers make short work of the tall stack! But sitting around reading while music is going on? Nah, I don't do that very often.

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    2. LOL I like that band name...The New Pornographers. Hope they are better than the old ones. haha

      I'm sure you don't have a lot of time to sit around and read anyway--with work and the kids (and the dogs)!

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    3. Funny thing is that The New Pornographers have such catchy, completely G-rated content that I want to share them with my kids, but I don't want to have to explain their name so I don't.

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  3. I love music and have sang or played an instrument since I was a girl. I can't imagine my life without music. However, when I'm writing I must have silence! (If you read that with a slight Germanic dialect it has much more dramatic impact.) But when I'm working out, especially in a boring gym, bring on the music. Thanks for the book recommendations. Greatttt-- two more to add to the list. ;)

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    1. Let me know if you read them. It will be a while for me. I did order Tracy Kidder, though.

      I tend to write in silence more than not. But when I'm really having trouble concentrating, music really gets my mind on track. I've also been navigating towards the classical station - rather than news and rock/folk - while driving. I can feel my blood pressure settle back to a healthy range listening to Debussy and Beethoven. But that seems so obvious.

      The book Imperfect Harmonies is so fascinating to me. I had tremendous emotional experiences singing in my college choir. I think it helped my depression/anxiety due to the chemical reactions of the music and the group experience. Plus, it bonded me with the other musicians. If you get a chance, listen to this episode of TOTN. The call-in stories actually gave me chills.

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  4. Such a great post! And now I know what you look like while folding the laundry! You're much peppier. Sometimes I can be found sobbing while folding the laundry. No reason, really. Laundry folding is just my "me time," and I never cry at any other time in my life. Le sigh.

    I actually won the science fair in high school testing this very theory using mice and a maze. Needless to say, the mouse who had to listen to Reggae was the fastest. Obviously. Not.

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    1. Laundry, vacuuming, dusting (like that ever happens), you name it - if I can thrash while doing it, it happens faster and more vigorously!

      I would love to have seen your mellow rats. They be jammin.

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