What is it about music that can so powerfully transform the soul?
Books and scholarly articles have been written about the subject: namely, the relationship between music and the brain, changes in brain circuitry while listening to music, and increased levels of beneficial serotonin that contribute to an easing of tension. This scholarly perspective is well and good, but like the ethereal sounds emanating from the strings of a violin, or the magical notes blown from the pursed lips of a saxophonist, I prefer a less scientific approach.
Nothing can compare to the absolute power of attending a live music event. Consider, in years gone by, a dark, musty, smoke-filled club, standing with a drink in one hand, the other hand tapping against your leg in rhythm to the beat, or perhaps touching your mate’s back, watching the performers on stage mystically coordinate their instruments to produce a unifying yet discrete sound, the silhouetted audience jostling, humming, and bellowing words of appreciation to the musicians. That setting is magical. All five senses are heightened to create a unique experience that allows you to forget about past troubles or impending tribulations. For a couple of hours, you are living in the present, a Zen moment of pure ecstasy.
Live events notwithstanding, music has the ability to bring you back in time and evoke friendly memories. Perhaps more than any other external factor, music seems to leave an indelible imprint on the brain. When I listen to a song for the four-hundredth time, for example, I am emotionally transported to the place where I first heard that song, or to an event that has become synonymous with that particular song. And these mental events are invariably pleasant. It is almost as if the brain has intentionally protected the purity of music by disengaging any potential negative link between a song and an unpalatable past occurrence.
In its most benign form, is there anything more enjoyable than rising early on one's day off, perhaps on a Saturday morning in the spring, and turning up the sounds of a favorite artist? Or pulling from the shelf a CD of an overlooked artist and re-living the remarkable beauty of a forgotten song? Or listening to an oft-heard song only to hear something entirely new and distinct this time – perhaps an instrument or voice in the background that had not been previously detected -- and running for the liner notes to learn about this new discovery?
On Saturday mornings like those described above, not only are the undertakings of the immediate household chores bearable, but the longer term foundation has also been laid for a gratifying and uplifting weekend.
Few things in life have the power to mystically transform and transport us to a better place. Music certainly has this mysterious quality.