Music has great power as a unifying force. Songs and music create a shared vocabulary to draw on as they become a common experience. But while music builds community, its impact on us is also highly personal: I might respond to a song very differently to you. These two distinct impacts music has on us could help us understand its contribution to wellbeing.
Onbviously we all respond to music in different ways, playing or listening. A song might trigger a link or a memory in my mind which you will never know. Lyrics might strike you more than me. I know I feel I absorb music more fully when I listen alone. But then again, hearing music together with others adds a different mood, as the focus moves from the music itself to the experience of community.
Sharing music enables connection as it forges a common identity. Sometimes we hear or perform a piece of music for the first time together as a group. Or we might come across a once familiar song again with others. Even a song title can create a shared point of reference. Many songs in particular have a lasting power to connect. Film scores add a further layer of shared memory as people see scenes from the film again in their mind’s eye.
Exploring music across the generations can expand musical experiences as well. Music’s role in connecting people of different ages is seen in initiatives run in response to Covid-19 to ease the loneliness endured by so many older people at the moment. Forced to suspend its usual care home visiting, the charity YOPEY has instead turned to inspiring and supporting young people to reach out in new ways, and one s through music and song. On https://www.facebook.com/YoungEntertainElderly, YOPEY creates Virtual Variety Shows for older people in care homes to enjoy. Another example is IMM (Intergenerational Music Making)’s partnership with Care England on Together With Music, linking schools and care homes this winter to choose songs to sing to each other online (https://www.togetherwithmusic.org.uk)
So sharing music is a powerful way to draw people together, which has so many benefits in itself. But as we all respond to music in a unique way, with a unique perspective, it is also important that we connect to music personally, experiencing the songs or music which most uplift us – and only us. This even shapes music’s impact on our physical wellbeing, as seen in the Sync Project’s 2017 study Body In Tune:Music and the Immune System. One benefit it found was that listening to music during surgery reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Levels fell particularly in patients who were allowed to choose what music they heard.
One way in which music’s impact is very specific is through different styles or traditions. Some people enjoy music as diverse as dance, classical, pop and folk. I know I do. Others only respond to one style or another. I hope another time to explore how music’s impact on wellbeing differes by genre. Is classival music more calming? Is pop most likely to boost mood? Do even some instruments have more impact than others? And knowing just how every person responds to music in a unique way, is it truly possible to attribute any specific impact to an entire musical style?
Maybe music is most powerful for you when played or heard alone, or maybe you think sharing music is more beneficial. It would be great if you could share any response you might have on Medley’s new Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002