The Magic of Music
By Joanne Esser
Some of my favorite memories involve singing, playing, or listening to music together with other people. Around a campfire, as part of a choir, with my kids on a long car trip, with children in my classrooms over the years – music is a special pleasure, a kind of connective tissue that weaves between people and makes us feel happy.
Music affects our bodies and our emotions. This will undoubtedly date me, but I admit that I put on lively songs by Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder or Queen when I am going to clean my house. I play them loud because it energizes me and makes the task more pleasant. On the other hand, when I am going to paint, I stream some mellow indie ballads or instrumental music to set the mood. It feels as if the music enhances my creativity. Think of how hearing a song from another time in your life transports you instantaneously back to a tender moment from your past, and you feel again the emotions of that moment.
In the classroom, music is a tool that teachers use for many purposes. Singing together builds a repertoire of songs that gradually belongs to the group, creating a body of shared content and ownership. Silly songs introduce a light mood and give everyone, children and adults, permission to let loose a bit. There is nothing better than a dance party with your friends on a rainy day! Teachers use songs as cues to signal transitions, such as singing a clean-up song that is the same every day, to ease into the routine task. Or they will sing a good-bye song that mentions every member of the class by name, acknowledging and reinforcing the children’s sense of belonging.
Music can also be useful in stressful situations. Once when I was camping with a group of elementary school children, the weather turned wet and windy. The children and adults were uncomfortable, and morale was sagging. To avoid the whining that seemed inevitable in the situation, my co-teacher and I made a rule: anyone who wanted to complain had to sing their complaint. The children were only too eager to invent complaint songs – and none of us could resist laughing at the resulting ridiculous, exaggerated and even operatic songs they belted out. It shifted the atmosphere completely. I recall many times when I was awakened in the middle of the night by a fretful child and the only thing that calmed both of us was rocking and singing a gentle, repetitive song. Vibrations shared between one body and another – a sweet way to settle back down.
Music is a language that can be understood by even the youngest infant. Singing a lullaby or humming gently while rocking a baby relaxes both the child and the adult. Even if the adult “can’t carry a tune,” the vibrations and soothing pattern of the melody offer a sense of closeness. According to Deanne W. Kells, an author and music teacher, “Researchers have proven via numerous studies that music has a positive impact on the ability of people to connect with one another. Music positively affects brain pathways that influence empathy, trust, and cooperation. Furthermore, scientists believe listening to and creating music increases the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in increasing bonding and trust between people.”
Music has been at the heart of the bonds I share with my grandchildren. Jazzing up a dull day by singing and dancing to Broadway tunes or simmering down before bedtime with soft favorite children’s songs is part of our routine when they come to visit.
Maria Von Trapp, the real-life heroine from one of my favorite musicals, “The Sound of Music,” once said, “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.” I have seen how true that can be.