If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die…
Thus starts the Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night”, with the love-struck Duke Orsino ordering his musicians at his palace to feed him with music all the night, as he desires to have the sweet strains feed his appetite for romance. The bard describes the music played as an energizing “food of love”, and in the following lines makes him pour forth sweet words of passion, originating from the tranquillizing effects of music.
Centuries before, while this play had been staged, the cultivation of music and the arts used to be perceived merely as aesthetic pursuits, entertaining and relaxing the mind and the soul and also connecting the performers with people at large. Today, numerous researches have proved that music, as an entity, has a profound effect on the body and the psyche of all living organisms. Hence, music, which was perceived only as an aesthetic pursuit, is regarded today as an established therapy to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. Researchers have elucidated on the fact that music is used as a therapy to not only bring about qualitative changes in humans, but also in animals and plants.
While today’s youth are completely in love with fast music with beats and rhythms, scientists say that these beats have a definite impact on the stimulation of the body of an individual. Let us for once think about the immensely invigorating symphonies of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart! Can anybody ever deny the level of creativity, positive energy, powerful melodies and harmonies they produce that compel the mind and the soul to embark on a journey of powerful emotions? Any classical form of music has been said to have profound effects on both the body and the psyche of individuals, playing an instrumental role in the healing and harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. Long accepted as both soother and stimulant, any form of ‘positive music’, including classical music has been proved to profoundly impact the cognitive abilities, creativity and the overall ‘state of the mind’ of an individual. By the term ‘positive music’, researchers refer to the kind of music which is usually emotionally and spiritually uplifting, that which is gifted with beneficial qualities, healing the mind and the body in the process. Apart from the pure classical variety of music, pop songs that are romantic in content, country tunes, and some amount of rhythm and blues (earlier referred to as ‘race music’) with evocative lyrics and tune are considered to be parts of ‘positive music’. Contemporary world music, a vast arena of music dedicated to the great non-western traditions of music, including Indian, Chinese, Persian (Iranian) and Sufi forms—comfortably fall into the category of “positive music” as defined by scholars.
Vedanta philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy and the effects of music:
If we look back into the history of ancient, age-old philosophies and cultures, the extent of the philosophical, spiritual impact that music was said to have on the human soul would become obvious to us. Ancient historians have found out that for thousands of years, the Vedic culture had used the profound sound effects of music not only for the tranquillity of the mind, but also for the equilibrium between body and soul, for encouraging a heightened state of awareness in humans, and even for health enhancement and promotion of healing. It had been believed by the unique Vedanta philosophers that ancient oriental music, in its true nature, was an enriched exercise of the human mind in its path of exploration into the mysteries of Nature and of Ultimate Truth (the “Brahman”). Thousands of centuries ago, in the ancient Vedanta philosophy, music had been considered as a subtle divine thread capable of linking the ‘Jeevatma’ (individual soul) with the ‘Parmatma’ (Supreme Soul). And why not, when the Vedanta philosophers had identified ‘shabda’ (sound) as ‘brahma’ (absolute reality), the primeval source of creation of the universe? This ancient concept of the ‘shabda-brahma’ had been embraced by ancient Vedic philosophers to understand the beauty, depth and elevating powers of ancient Indian music. On the other hand, the myriad effects that the various “raagas” of classical Indian music that inspire the human mind and rejuvenate the senses are also widely recognized. Hence, it is imperative why the ancient spiritual music form ‘Dhrupad’ performed in the temples and the courts from the ancient to the medieval times was connected to its spiritual roots. This also explains why contemporary researches still try to delve deep into its magical prowess on the human body and soul.
In ancient Greece, the legendary mathematician Pythagoras theorized that music had the power to diminish and even eradicate negative energies from the human mind. Philosophers from around the fifth century B.C. to around third century A.D. had full faith in the ethical powers of music and recognized the immense impact of music on the development of one’s personality. The stupendous power of music over the ethos of an individual, and on the overall human disposition has been time and again emphasized by philosophers like Plato and also by Chinese authors of various documents.
Modern science and Music therapy:
Today modern scientific studies are constantly emphasizing on the astonishing benefits of music in terms of healing human ailments. Adequate scientific research in recent times have explicitly shown that specific sounds and music have resulted in multiple healing benefits. Even in case of critical human ailments, the ever-growing field of health care popularly known as Music Therapy is utilizing music and its various forms to heal cancer patients, children with ADD etc. It is amazing to find out today how hospitals and health care services are treating music therapy as a distinct research area in order to help with pain management, to help ward off depression, to promote movement, to calm patients, to ease muscle tension and more.
Numerous researches from 1950 till today have proved that music has a strong impact on the human brain. The beats and rhythm of music, which can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, has the ability to transport the human mind to a crescendo of concentration, and even promote a tranquil, meditative state of mind. As the beats and rhythm of music have the ability to impact the brainwaves and other resulting physiological functions, researches show that activities related to the autonomous nervous system, like breathing and heart rate are greatly impacted by the “magic wand of music”. Keeping this in mind, exponents of music therapy today are constantly using the super-power of music to counteract or prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress, promoting relaxation, health and wellness. Researchers also claim that the soothing effects of ‘positive music’ can reduce the risk of stroke and other health problems over time, boost immunity, ease muscle tension, working as an ultimate “stress-buster” of all times.
Most of the findings of the current researches regarding the effects of music emerged in the wake of the realization that all our bodily functions, like breathing and pulse, heart rate and the pumping of blood in the heart—work in a cohesive and rhythmical pattern, just like music does. While the basics of music are based on the rhythmical and cyclical movements of sound patterns, it is the synchronization of the various sound patterns and rhythms that influence all our physiological actions. All music therapy interventions designed by experts to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, and promote physical rehabilitation emphasize on this synchronization of various sound patterns and rhythms as the fundamentals of music therapy.
A few years back, a new type of music therapy has reportedly been offered to individuals with severe intellectual disabilities, with some remarkable results. As reported by The World Today, music, very much like mediation and yoga, is giving a voice to profoundly affected people, thereby providing new insights into their inner lives. They have also reported as many as a half a dozen case studies of individuals with severe disabilities responding to music as an absolute direct channel of communication, which is definitely an instance in itself.
Keeping in mind these profound effects of music which many have discovered in their lives personally, I guess when somebody says that a certain kind of music ‘lifted’ him in spirit, mind and body, I would take every word, literally. The ultimate sense of intense well being that one is capable of reaching through music, is truly euphoric in its essence, and also sustains even moments after listening. So, we might take some time everyday to move out of the chaos of the world, tune into a classical music playlist to ensure tranquility, productivity and calm living for an entire lifetime.