If you know me, you know I wholeheartedly believe in the power of music. You may also know that in some cases and practices of music therapy, I remain the skeptic, and try to retain a critical lens. Simply put, music doesn’t always heal. Ah, but when it does.
For the third anniversary of the great earthquake in Eastern Japan, a group of Japanese animators have come together for a relief project.
Founded in 2012, the Zapuni LLC organization unites Japanese artists and musicians to work together on various projects in order to raise awareness and money for general aid. Set to Sade’s Grammy nominated song By Your Side, this animated video tells the story of a rabbit and bear who lose a friend in the earthquake, and how music acts as a healing agent in helping them come to terms with their loss. I have found this video incredibly powerful, and hope you will too.
Directed by Tsuneo Goda, it has been created by the stop-motion animation company Dwarf for children’s charity Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus which has been inspired by El Sistima, and uses music therapy to help children who have been emotionally and psychologically traumatised by the disaster.
If you wish to donate to the cause, funds attained will be used for instruments, teaching and classes.
I have a dear friend (we’ll call him Nathan). Though I haven’t seen him in years, we keep in touch as much as life’s seeming entropy permits. I met Nathan in college when I began voice lessons and needed an accompanist. As proved typical for me, I simply looked for the most dashing, accomplished pianist available to join me in practicing my Italian arias and favorites from Phantom. Though young, Nathan was a great musician, and though our personalities couldn’t be more opposite, I held a great amount of respect for him.
One day, a curious thing happened. I was driving on my way to school after grabbing coffee when I saw Nathan walking down the road about a mile out. I was already nearly late to class, so I rolled down my window and offered him a ride. When I became close enough to see his face, I understood immediately that Nathan would not be joining us in World History that day. We awkwardly mumbled something to each other, he declined the ride, and I reluctantly kept going. When I arrived in class, I discreetly explained to the professor that though I was unsure of the cause, something was very wrong with Nathan, and he would be absent for the day.
As time passed, Nathan and I became inseparable. As I was a couple years his senior and lived off campus, it became the unsaid ritual that after choir, we’d grab food. After ensemble, I’d kidnap him to Starbucks so he could tease me as I refused to budge until I had studied for my philosophy class for no less than 4-6 hours at a time. He tried to help me in music theory, and I tried to help him gain confidence in singing. Although like many pianists, he had a lovely but timid singing voice, I really never heard it until recently – some five years after meeting him.
A year or so into our friendship, Nathan transferred to a college back home. I was devastated, as I had lost my best pal. Who was I going to call for a long drive to do nothing but sit in silence and listen to Radiohead’s Videotape over and over when it felt like my existential world of faith was caving in? Who was going to teach me the rest of the Mendelssohn piece (by ear, mind you, as I refused to read the sheet music at the time)? Who was going to roll his eyes at me when I showed off in the ear training portion of collegiate, or play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu for me as only he could? I didn’t know. I eventually made new friends, but the uniting factor that brought us together was a bond so strong it was never replaced, and has never faded. The type of bond that although we haven’t seen each other in four years, he remains available for my call anytime, day or night, and I for his. That bond is the blinding desolation of loss, and the dogged, unyielding courage of resilience.
When Nathan tragically lost one of his best friends the day I found him slowly trodding down the side of the road, I somehow knew. Though up to that point, I’d only lost a few people in my life, I was no stranger to loss of the purest kind. As Nathan and I grew closer, we grew to develop a stronger empathy for one another – many demons that plagued him also plagued me, and sadly, the young friend Nathan lost that day was not the first, and would not be the last. Although the friend I lost to cancer at age 18 was nothing short of heartbreaking, it could not prepare me for the following loss of my gran, my father, and a dear friend taken far too young just last summer.
I have never written about that friend publicly, but as he was loved by so many, it was a terrible loss. I had shared many a silly, procrastinating evening listening intently to his outlandish stories in college, and have been affected in so many positive ways by his compassionate charisma. When I got the news, I knew outside of his family and immediately local friends, telling Nathan would prove the toughest, as it seems he is cruelly losing a loved one every time I turn around. I believe it is because of this, however, that we have remained the strongest of allies. There is no more universal plight than death, and a multitude of historical events simply show that trial, grief and hopeful resilience simply bring people together.
A couple of weeks ago, Nathan sent me his cover of a Say Something (A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera) with little explanation other than “Listen to this if you will – you can’t imagine the day I’ve had, and I’m sorry my voice is frail but this holds a lot of personal significance to me.” I received the email mid-lessons, and only remembered to put it on right before pulling into my apartment for the night. I figured I would hear a few moments, and then replay it later on when settled. However, for whatever reason, from the split second I heard the first four solo notes in complete isolation, I knew this was going to be a tough listen. As the song opened and the words “Say something, I’m giving up on you” fell from his mouth, my heart jumped to my throat. Nathan was currently going through a loss of the worst kind, and I knew immediately the type of “day” he had been referring to.
As the song played on, it fastly became one of those pieces you never forget the first time hearing. It was also the first time I’d truly heard Nathan sing, and it was beautiful, captivating, and utterly devastating. Surrounded by the common and simple vi IV I V progression, his voice radiated of pain and brokenness, but also of survival – he had recorded it, after all. After sitting stunned for what felt like ages, I went inside, dropped my books on the floor, immediately pulled up the lyrics for the song, played, recorded and sent the first portion of the song back to him.
Though the song was poignant and evocative then, it passed into vague memory until quite recently. I lost something myself, this time, that left me feeling like nothing more than a bewildered little girl hiding under the bed. As I wandered aimlessly around my apartment that evening, I remember the song Nathan had sent me, and the words came rushing back in my head like a merciless yet somehow relieving migraine. I made myself a cup of coffee to brave the chill of three in the morning out on my balcony, put my headphones on, and watched the video to Say Something for the first time. Maybe the most surprising thing was not even the almost at once literal depiction of the little girl hiding under the bed (a harsh but tender parallel indeed) but that the song depicted more than one type of loss. The two lovers, the scared, sad child, and the elderly man mourning his fading wife on her deathbed. I do not know what it is about such a simple song – maybe the slight, fleetingly frozen dissonance in the V chord, or maybe the emotion with which it is performed, but that song somehow brought to life everything that I could not.
I’ve since spoken to various people about the song’s effect, and have heard only the most positive things. “My boyfriend and I split this morning, and this song just helps me feel.” “I’m moving to a new city by myself, leaving all my friends behind, and I can’t stop listening to it.” “My dog died recently, and I know it’s silly, but it’s so pretty that it soothes me.” I also caught the video that recently went viral of the young boy moved to tears by the pop ballad. Though the dad was wise enough to request the ‘thumbs up’ to confirm the little guy was okay, 4-year-old Jackson was clearly and utterly moved by the music, as assuredly so many others around the globe have been. Does the young child have the capacity to intuitively understand what’s going on in the song or in his brain to evoke such elicit feelings of sadness? I don’t know. What I do know, is when the father provided the option to change the song, Jackson objected – he wanted to hear it.
Why is it that circumstances of loss and turmoil unite us so? Why is Banksy’s girl with the red balloon (always just out of reach) a personal favorite of thousands? Why was Adele’s Someone Like You a global affective phenomenon? Why was I glued to my phone and laptop nearly every moment of the Egyptian revolution a couple years ago? Why it is that Nathan and I always know exactly what to say to each other (which is often little more than solidarity’s knowing silence) when something dreadful happens? And above all, why does it so frequently involve or resort to music? Can music truly heal? I know it can, because I am a living attestation.
To speak plainly, sometimes the events of our lives can leave us feeling shattered in tiny pieces, strewn so haphazardly across the floor that Heaven only knows how or when we’ll find the strength to put them back together. Unfortunately, all the psychiatric drugs, diversions of the city, yoga classes and mindfulness apps in the world remain unable to glue us back together all at once. No, the process of feeling whole again can sometimes seem long, arduous and even hopeless. But if we make a little progress as often as we are able, slowly those little shards of who we are will begin to soften back into place, and the stiff and aching joints of defeat will begin to piece back together in a strengthened empathy and love. I am convinced now more than ever that music can be one of the most compassionate and brutal yet tender healers. I am overwhelmed with learning more of how this may be possible, and I intend to continue reporting my findings along the way.
Though we may always be able to see those little lines of glue reminding us of the time we nearly fell apart, healing is possible, and there is hope to be found.
Thus far, my research interests have lain in the children I’ve tested and taught in person, and I have had little use for gathering data from anyone over the age of 18. As I craft together my first pitch, however, I’d like to ask for some feedback. I’ve been given the opportunity to write about two subjects I find very fascinating. In fact, I believe anyone else has yet to combine them in quite this way. I’m attempting to piece together the music industry and psychological resilience. In the end, it all boils down to music behavior analysis. In this vein, I find myself happily at home. When venturing toward the music industry and modern practice, however, I’m treading on new ground.
So I ask you, dear reader, if you have ever gone through a period of immense stress (i.e. one’s senior year of college or an audit at work), lost a loved one due to natural or unnatural causes, or experienced a major trial of any kind, to lend me your feedback. If you have ever streamed music using Spotify, Grooveshark, Songza, 8track, LastFM (etc.), or elected not to, I ask for your feedback.
It’s been a few weeks since I really sat down on meditated on these concepts. This weekend, however, tragedy struck. A friend of mine lost his father, and I lost someone very dear to me. I suppose now is as good a time as ever, then, to write about loss, and how we respond to it.
I am interested in the way we respond to trauma/loss through the psychological lenses of music behavior with a special emphasis on playback. Because the debate of ownership vs. streaming is relatively new, there is precious little data available in the area I’m seeking. In terms of loss, this natural phenomenon has always existed. As for the modes and vices with which we counter this loss, our outlets would seem to expand on a daily basis. We grow at the speed of modern technology.
How has the ability to stream music affected stress/pain culture in the industry? Has it been altered in the least in terms of our music listening habits (ownership vs. access)? Is streaming saved for the young in age and young at heart, those without the worries of time and weather? In occasions of strife, do we turn to a new and fresh outlet which resigns our need and right of control? Or in a subconscious search for the regulation of external chaos do we flee from such an idea, clinging heavily to those old safe tunes proven time and time again to get us through?
I would appreciate any and all feedback in the aid of my essay. You may leave a comment, or if you wish to reach me privately, you may contact me on Facebook.
Thanks to Pravin Jeya for his inquiry as to the origin of my PhD topic. Many of you have asked, and without going too in depth into my passionate affair with fight or flight and the amygdala, I have tried to explain where it began. The post may be found here, and I would encourage you to check it out in conjunction with Pravin’s work.
If one were to ask for my academic or intellectual rationale for choosing music psychology, I would most likely rattle off something matter-of-factly about how I’ve grown up around music and psychology. My parents were psychologists; my mother has two doctorates so academic achievement was always very important. Yet they always stressed the cultural and intellectual importance of music. Music is what I do, and I have a lazy passion for the more philosophical side of things, so it simply ‘made sense,’ as it were.
As to my intellectual rationale for music psychology, it started exactly a year ago. From the time I discovered Dr. Victoria Williamson’s research in the applied neuroscience of music, I’ve been completely enamored with the field. Since I was a young child, I’ve been devoted to the pursuit of music in any way possible. I’ve been involved in music theatre, music video production and engineering, music composition, and music marketing in radio and television. As my emotional intelligence developed, however, I found I also had an intense desire to understand people and their motives. In high school and college, I took classes in philosophy, psychology and ethics. My first emphasis in college was music and psychology. But as I was strongly discouraged from pursuing majors with such ‘different focuses,’ I chose music alone. In line with this, I never resolved to solely do one or the other, and eventually it was cause for a year break before enrolling in a graduate programme. I found I simply could not be happy studying only music or only psychology. Enter my absolute elation upon discovering the Music, Mind and Brain programme at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I believe that their programme’s careful integration of music perception, neuroscience and statistical methods combined with a faculty of such encouragement and expertise will be just the training I seek in preparation of a PhD and a career in the field.
If someone were to ask to explain or justify my ‘non-academic’ journey into exactly what I have chosen to pursue, I still find myself needing to pause and really think it through. One catalyst for this is that my rationale is not static but dynamic, changing and evolving daily into something slightly new and adjusted. I suppose that that should say something in and of itself – the pursuit of music psychology has become my life blood – it’s what I think about most moments of every day. The more I’ve reflected on my own listening habits over the years, the more I realize there are few times I am without music. I use it advantageously in every possible situation. As an ENFJ (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) Jungian personality type, being able to calm and put people at ease is one of my greatest joys, and strengths. Music can turn a moment of happiness into a moment of memorable bliss that stays with you always. It can also turn a slightly vague and uncomfortable memory into a transparent lake of psychoanalytical outpouring. Music is in everything, and it has the power to heal people.
If one were to ask the truly cementing factor in my life that secured music psychology, however, it is most of all the following. Last summer, I lost my step-sister, my father, and my best friend within two weeks of each other. Though I’d dealt with a fair share of hardship in adolescence, I’d never gone through anything of this magnitude. Through the process of witnessing my family’s grief (and my own) in spending time in hospitals and hospice, I felt more than ever an acute desire to help people through their pain. I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because I am a living attestation. There are many who would disagree with my personal ethic, but I continued to teach my private music lessons to children in the morning after I lost my father, and missed not a single lesson until several months later. I’m finding my time now to be alone and to grieve, but I honestly believe that the joy of working with kids in music sustained me through the more terrible moments, and as I said, I’ve kept in reserve the strength to maintain my lessons and lead a research project at the university. I wish to practice music psychology because I know it works. I now desire to delve further into the why, and the how.
My long-term goal is to complete a PhD in using music as a therapeutic tool in those who struggle with self-harm. From there exist many options I’d like to pursue, such as research and music therapy in a clinical setting. Though I have many different interests in listening behavior, emotional intelligence and applied neuroscience, the concept of psychological resilience remains of the most consequence to me, and I’ve many ideas how to pair this with music.
Diana Hereld holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Communication. She works currently as a psychology researcher at California State University, music tutor in piano and voice, and teacher for an early childhood music company. When she is not working, she spends her time independently researching all things music psychology and neuroscience, and theology/philosophy when it pertains to the former. Her interest is particularly in the way varied personality types respond emotionally to music, whether that can change over time in consequence of plasticity, and the implications for psychological resilience. She has just been accepted into the Music, Mind and Brain MSc programme at Goldsmiths College University of London for Fall 2012. You can follow her on Twitter @christypaffgen and subscribe to her blog, As the Spirit Wanes: The Form Appears.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
My father died two weeks ago, during this hour, today. Yesterday would have been his birthday. During the past month, I’ve flown to Seattle and back three times, to be with him, and two days ago for his funeral. I’ve never felt something quite exquisitely distressing as the loss of my dad. It’s not a stabbing, unbearable pain, as one might feel when they are hurt or abandoned by a lover… but more a confusion. A frantic, desperate confusion, and emptiness. All of the clichés I have witnessed over the years now begin to make malevolent sense with sickening clarity.
“I feel as if I’m falling and can’t see the ground.”
“It’s like I’m in a daze.”
“I roam the house, searching for any piece of them left behind, but am left ever with nothing. Not a trace.”
All of these cruel notions, I feel. I go about my days. I continued teaching lessons the morning after he died. I’ve more distracting plates spinning than I can count-but the slightest thing, like a visual in the grocery store of a father holding his daughter’s hand sends me into a silent, trapped hysteria.
But then, there is something else. There are the other clichés; the one’s that I’ve found to be far more detrimental:
“Try not to think about it.”
“You have to keep busy.”
“He’s in a better place.”
It’s not that these aren’t wholly appreciated, and stem exclusively from a caring love. But I’m learning something-it almost flawlessly separates the ones who have felt this pain from the ones who have not. The ones who have lost one such as this? They sit. They listen. They cry with you. And occasionally, you are blessed to receive those beautiful words: “You will get through this. Everything will be alright.” By saying this, instead of minimizing or overshadowing the loss, aftershock and long-lingering effects, you have not only joined the bereaved where they kneel, you have acknowledged their pain and thus bore witness to their anguish. You have given them what they possibly need the very most: the immediate motivation to continue to live.
It’s funny, what we see in movies and television. A month or so ago, I watched the first episode of Six Feet Under (which I swiftly found to be a poor judgment call at the time). But we see these. We see the woman receive the phone call alerting her that her husband has been killed. We see her throw her pots and pans, and ultimately crumple to the floor. We witness this motion in action in Hollywood and Music…and yet it can’t prepare us for when you get that call.
When my mother called me at 6:30 pm Monday, August 1st, I had readied myself, but not for so soon. I had just flown back to LA the night before! It didn’t matter. She said “Diana,” her voice cracked, and my body immediately shut down. I don’t believe I cried, I just remember immediately calling a friend, getting a voicemail, and sitting down. Around 11pm, I received a kind text from someone, and went to bed. What interests me about this? It’s not me. I am an emotional, extroverted, open person. When I feel something, I say it. I feel it to the highest degree. But this? The prospect of losing my daddy? It’s like I’m acting the one way I could not have foreseen: utterly emotionally trapped.
The scariest aspect of this for me is that it’s my greatest childhood fear come to life. From as long as I can remember, to the time I was about 17, I had a dream, recurring being a mild way to describe it. It began as the typical Jungian archetype of the sensation of screaming, but no sound could be heard. Running away from something, but the use of my legs was lost. It always ended with me throwing myself on the ground, and giving up. I couldn’t cause action or motion with any of my faculties, so I gave up. Around then, I would wake, crawl back into bed from the ground, and try to forget.
If we view this from an artist’s perspective, it becomes a bit more interesting. What is the artist’s greatest need? To express themselves, regardless of the possible noble or ill intended outcome. What, then, should be the artist’s greatest fear? The inability to articulate what they deem critical. It is these thoughts that have plagued my mind in recent days, and will reflected upon again in this medium soon, hopefully with a type of resolution to my own shortcomings.
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