Carla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC
Why the World is Turning to Music
All across the world, people are turning to music to help them cope and connect with others during the Covid-19 pandemic. First, there were handwashing songs and parodies. Next came the viral videos of people in Italy singing to each other from their balconies. The Facebook group, Quarantine Karaoke, quickly gained over 400,000 followers. Musicians are posting live concerts from home, and orchestras and choirs are sharing virtual performances.
So many of us, unable to connect with each other in physical space, are doing so through music.
It makes sense. Corona virus fears have us feeling anxious, isolated, and perhaps even depressed. We seem to intrinsically know that music can help us, in concrete and specific ways, with all of these feelings. And science backs this up!
Music for Social Connection
Music has existed in all cultures across history. In fact, some evolutionary scientists believe that music facilitated the survival of our species by strengthening social bonds. Music is a social act that requires people work together in a cooperative, synchronized manner. This synchronization with others releases positive endorphins that make us feel good. Whether you are singing along in a crowded stadium, marching or grooving to a beat, or belting a lyric with your earbuds in, coordinating musically with others engages social networks in our brains. Studies show that that when people make music with others, they feel bonded more quickly than with other activities, and may even start to sychronize their heartbeats. An amazing thing about modern technology is that we no longer need to be in the same room with other people in order to get the social benefits of music. Recording technology, social media, and videos help us tap into the social roots of music, even when we are alone.
Music may also increase feelings of empathy. Music activates a pathway in our brains that we use to understand what others are thinking and feeling. People who already show high empathy traits "process music as if it’s a pleasurable proxy for real-world human encounters." How amazing is that at a time when social distancing is mandated!
Music and our Moods
It isn't just social isolation that has people turning to music. Music can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and modulate levels of dopamine and serotonin, all which help improve our mood.
For some people, putting on happy, upbeat music is a great way to find respite from the world right now. Many songs transport us to happier times, get our bodies moving, and carry positive messages of hope. We may also find ourselves drawn to sad music, and that is also completely normal. Hearing sad music that reflects our current emotional state helps us to feel less alone and helps our bodies find homeostatis. It is a cathartic way of channeling emotions away from real world threats and into the representative beauty of music.
Music also provides structure and familiarity at a time when nothing feels normal. Our routines are disrupted. We don’t feel in control of our environment. Music is something familiar that we can turn to for comfort.
Music is for Everyone!
One thing that excites me about the musical explosion happening right now, particularly on social media sites and in neighborhoods, is that music is being made by everyone. Not just the “experts” or the professionals, but everyone. This is the way that music once was: shared around the piano, in the legion hall, across the fire, and on the front porch. Singing and making music was a part of everyday life, and now, perhaps it is again.
So please, keep the music going. And when this current crisis passes, remember how important music was in helping us get through this. Remember it the next time your local school system wants to cut music programs from the budget, or community arts organizations come asking for donations. Professional musicians, music therapists, music teachers, and community music groups across the country are being financially challenged by the loss of paid work. Yet, the music goes on. Because what else can we do? We are human beings, we will persevere, and there will be music.
Here are some of my favorite examples of community music making happening right now:
Music therapy outside a nursing home
Virtual Choir- True Colors Close to You
Funny Parodies- Yesterday Homeward Bound