Many years ago my wife and I had the lucky good fortune to attend a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. That night the artists debuted a new song for the first time publicly. It was a long song by pop music standards, almost five minutes, but when the performers were finished everyone in the auditorium spontaneously stood up and began clapping and cheering. That song was recently identified by Diane Sawyer on ABC News’s Instant Index as the most pain-relieving song in America.
Music has long been known for its soothing and healing properties. Native American drum circles have been used to transform consciousness and rewire the brain as part of healing ceremonial processes for centuries. In that transformative rewiring, I would argue that an increased flow of energy and information in the brain and body generalizes its impact to the immune system; much as comedy apparently did for political editor and UCLA adjunct medical professor Norman Cousins, who cured himself anecdotally of a crippling disease (ankylosing spondylitis) by watching movie comedies and sitcoms on TV.
Music Lovers of the World, Unite!
In his best-selling book, Musicophilia, neurologist Oliver Sacks detailed music’s positive effects on the brain, especially in older folks. Sacks considers music our best natural medicine. It’s ability to soothe and console us often works more powerfully than drugs, which American retailers have long known. People whose threat detection brain structures are on high alert make crummy consumers – they don’t purchase as much merchandise as people who are relaxed and undistracted. Thus the spooky, retail presence of Muzak in virtually every mall in America.
With respect to the most brain-soothing song in America, what’s most interesting to me about it (and many other popular songs as well – for example, Sarah McLachlan’s “Good Enough”) is that it speaks directly to The Big Brain Question: Are You There For Me? Are you emotionally available to me in a resonant way. Are you able to see and hear and feel my reality and reflect it back to me in a compassionate, non-condemning manner; especially when growth brings on difficult changes that affect you while they invite me to address and integrate them.
Your Brain on Music
McGill University neuroscience professor, music critic and rock musician Daniel Levitin, in his book This Is Your Brain on Music, details precisely how various elements make music music – pitch, timbre, rhythm, harmony, loudness, meter, melody, harmony – all work inside the brain to accomplish what they do. Potentially, music activates every single network fiber of the brain that we know about. Generally speaking, it works to increase and strengthen connections between each of the four lobes and between every sub-cortical structure. In the process, it can’t help but work to increase the flow of energy and information throughout body and brain. Increased flow of energy and information through our neural net is usually a good thing. For a powerful demonstration of music’s ability to profoundly activate emotional energy in an open, undefended nervous system for good or ill, check out this two minute video: Moving Song. It also offers up a telling example of Contingent Communication.
Oh, and as for the most healing, brain-soothing song in America, take a listen: The Most Healing Song in America.