Songs that take us to different places

This weekend we went to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Ross loves jazz, and I don’t mind (some of) it!

We went to see Rymden, a Norwegian jazz trio. They are virtuoso musicians, but boy was it hard work! Nails down a blackboard would be sweet compared ( IMHO!) The seats were so tightly packed we struggled to fit our legs in, and with the man in front of me banging his head on my knees every few moments, by the time the first noise – sorry – composition 😉was over, I felt like I had been battered by jazz. ‘Nice’ it was not ( A Fast Show reference there!)

I lasted another 30 minutes, and then took myself off out of the arena.

In years gone by, I would have stayed, because that’s what you do. I’d have wanted to support Ross. (Not that he was on stage!) And I’d want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

But I took myself off, got a G&T, and sat in the chilly brightness, and people watched. Guilt free. No cares about what I should have done. No pressure to enjoy something that wasn’t me. No regrets about what I was missing.

Note to self: this week, do what you feel is right. Forget other people’s judgement.

What I wanted to explore today was the impact music can have on us.

Why is Rymden noise to me and nectar to Ross?

Why does a certain song influence my mood?

I don’t know about you, but there are some songs that take me to a different place, state, and time. For example, today is my step- dad’s birthday. He came into my life when I was a difficult teenager and he was a difficult middle aged man. Over the years, we formed a tight bond. He taught me that people do stand by their word. I taught him how to show love. Every time I hear Take That, Rule the World, I think of him. It must have been playing around the time he died in December 2013. Some days when I hear it, I feel full of love and gratitude for what he brought to my life. Other days, I can barely listen for the pain of loss. He’d have hated it and grumbled about the ‘noise of those popular beat combos’ but for me, as I’ll listen to it today on the day he would have turned 85, it evokes such emotion. He really does light the skies up above me.

When my daughter was suicidal she listened to Twenty One Pilots a lot. When I found an old suicide note last year, she had listed several of their songs to be played at her funeral. (I know I’ve made such progress in healing from this journey that I wrote that without even the thought of a mini-sob!) Of course, I went off and listened to them and wondered what part they had played in her illness. I see now that they were helping her to make sense of her emotions, at a time when she felt no comfort or solace in the world. They were making her feel less alone. Sure, listening to something cheery might have been better, but actually these helped her to feel she belonged, that someone understood, that she wasn’t alone.

Powerful stuff, music.

The science behind why music makes us feel is fascinating. There have been numerous studies on music and its impact on emotion. It is scientifically proven to light up certain parts of the brain and it’s now being used to evoke memory and emotion in people with dementia.

And there are theories that some of the patterns in music reinforce genetic patterns from our cave dwelling ancestors. Proven science shows that the correlation between music and different areas of the brain, many of which are tied to emotional processing. Music that creates pleasurable emotions lights up the mesolimbic pathway, the reward part of the brain that gives us happy feelings. Music also creates responses from the amygdala, which processes emotions, the hippocampus which manages the formation of new memories and is linked with learning and emotions, and the hypothalamus, which is responsible for maintaining stress hormones.

Music, food, sex, and drugs all share the same reward-based neural operations that govern feelings of euphoria so music could very easily become a therapeutic alternative or addition to traditional methods of dealing with mental illness.

At its heart, the right music can lift our mood instantly.

How amazing is that?

While my daughter was listening to Twenty One Pilots in her darkest depression, I don’t remember listening to anything. I didn’t want to feel happy, I just wanted her to be well. And even though I will have listened to tons of music (apparently we spend 60% of our day listening, actively or passively, to music) none of it was conscious or meaningful to me at that time.

When was the last time you danced around your kitchen?

Or put a feel good track on that takes you to a different time or place?

Can you use music to lift your own mood?

Maybe it might lift your child’s too?

As we move towards a more mindful you, I’d encourage you to get your own self soothing playlists together today. One that lifts your mood and another that calms you down. And try to use them instead of anger, food, wine, words or other less positive actions when you feel frustrated or weary or cross. Like gratitude, they will be impacting on your brain!

Share your favourite track that makes you happy in the comments, and if you feel inclined, add your tracks to the PMH Spotify Playlist so we can create a collective playlist that will lift all our spirits. 

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