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The Power & Potential of Music

Wednesday, November 09, 2016
By Nitin Chandy

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” -Sidney J. Harris

But how often is that purpose met? As part of a system that is geared to measure success purely on marks and grades, and where competition is more important than collaboration, how are we as educators to craft a future for our students?

It is patently obvious that our education system is flawed. By negating each student’s personality, interests, and talents and fostering a mind-set that expects excellence in a one-size-fits-all environment, we are killing individuality and creativity while producing a robotic army of young adults, tailor-made to fit into the economic fabric of our society.

But by far our most disastrous failure has been the exclusion in our school curriculum of all the arts; the diverse range of human creative and expressive activities that includes painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, film and more. Tragically we continue to think of these fields as flippant, unviable, and a waste of resources.

Far too often, I have counseled anxious parents who are distraught that their child, gifted musician though he might be, wants to waste his time and their money pursuing a career in music rather than medicine. How do I explain that while yes, your son the doctor may one day mend a broken leg, but that equally, your son the musician may just as importantly heal a fractured psyche.

“Music can heal wounds which medicine cannot touch.” - Debasish Mridha

The power of music to heal has been irrefutably documented. Music causes changes in pulse, heart rate and blood pressure. It increases the production of the body’s naturally occurring mood enhancing chemical dopamine, relieving symptoms of depression. It releases opioids, the body’s natural pain-killers, and is beginning to be seriously used in hospitals as therapy.

Additionally, music has a tremendous ability to evoke emotion; joy, sadness, exhilaration, courage, patriotism, an attribute used effectively in film scores that skillfully transport you moment by moment through the entire spectrum of human sentiments.

Music can be one of the most effective entrance points to meditative and sacred experiences. It can pull aside the curtains that veil the inner most recesses of ourselves, making hidden, suppressed or unconscious feelings accessible.

“When the soul hears music, it drops its best guard.” - Socrates

In fact in the middle ages the church banned what they termed ‘The Devil’s Interval’ or ‘The Devil’s Chord’, a tri-tone that corresponds today to the two notes of C to F sharp. Why would they do this? Kay Gardner in her book 'Sounding The Inner Landscape’ posits that “the tri-tone when sung at length as harmony by a group of meditators could take singers and listeners to a place where they will be in touch with divinity”.

Maybe, maybe not but bringing the study of music into our school curriculums has far too many benefits to ignore. In the last few decades neuroscientists have discovered and mapped the specific  areas of the brain that light up during various activities. It turns out that listening to music makes multiple areas of the brain light up, as brain analyses the elements of rhythm, melody and harmony, and then synthesizes it all back together into a composite musical experience.

Playing music however, is even more astonishing. It lights up practically every single area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices. It combines the linguistic and mathematical precision of the left hemisphere with the creative and artistic content of the right brain and shows increased activity in the connective tissue that bridges the two. This results in more interface and faster communication which actually contributes to higher problem solving skills both academically and socially. Disciplined practice increases the strength of these connections, conferring advantages in other areas of human endeavour.

‘We know that every particle in the universe takes its characteristics from the pitch and pattern and overtones of its particular frequencies, its singing. Before we make music, music makes us’ – Joachim Ernst Berendt.

Research on second graders has shown that the study of music fosters reading, language and maths skills, contributes significantly to mastery of memorization and retrieval, elevates emotional development and empathy, and develops lateral thinking, creativity and teamwork.

And finally, music is a gift for life. When you can no longer play tennis or golf, you can still sing. Music is a skill that will endure and enhance and change the way you live.

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” - Bono

“A song can infiltrate your heart and the heart may change your mind.” - Elvis Costello

In ancient Greece, Plato believed that musical training was a far more potent instrument for education than any other. Today’s scientists have proven him unequivocally right.

(The Author is the Co Founder of  The True School of Music – www.trueschool.in)

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