It really is so remarkable as I am so far away from the familiar home, I know I have the space to heal, grieve and start remembering. A lot of my memories are missing or disjointed from my late teens up until now. What I have noticed is that if I play specific music that held a significance to me at a certain point the memories or at least emotional memories start coming back! I am particularly drawn right now to specific classical composers that were my artistic inspiration in college. I keep replaying the same song and feel the comfort and excitement I felt the first time I had my first apartment and I was immersed in creating dance pieces and singing. I can even envision the space, and a scene of me listening to the same song. I find a sense of aliveness, vitality and awe as I expose myself to certain pieces.
I did a little research through my academic library and there is growing evidence of music and it's cognitive healing powers. Musicale memory is one part of the brain that is not massively impacted by Alzheimers disease & epilepsy. In a research from 2009 called 'Emotional Power of Music in Patients with Memory Disorders' (Samson. 2009), they theorize that the emotional power of music is so profound that the memory encoding is enhanced. They find that patients with Alzheimer's have an ability to develop familiarity with music and specifically happy music. "By eliciting emotional experience, musical listening conveys a conceptual representation that seems to remain accessible in these patients" (P, 253). More research is happening and needed to understand why musical memory is more efficient and little impacted by cerebral damage than other domains of memory.
In a more recent research by Stephen W. Porges, & Andrew Rosetti entitled ‘Music, Music Therapy and Trauma’ (2018) they discuss the research behind the effective use of music in treatment of trauma in children and adults suffering from trauma. They note reductions in defensive behaviours such as tantrums and rages that disrupt “healing and restorative process” (p, 117). Furthermore “music may functionally ‘retune’ our nervous system’s capacity to regulate visceral organs, shift mood states, and optimize social behavior, trust, and connectedness” (P,117). Lullabies have been used for centuries to calm agitated babies and children and this is no coincidence.
Here is poem by Amy Clements-Cortez based on a patient in palliative care called Beata who was dying of late stage cancer. Beata requested to have familiar Jewish folk songs and percussions played as she was dying as it brought her great ‘aliveness’ in her last days. (Cortez, 2018). The power of music therapy in Beata’s illness had impactful therapeutic value.
I believe there is much value to be learned and instilled through music and mental health disorders. Something remarkable happens in the brain when music is used in relationship to healing, remembering and feeling.
I Am Still Alive
I am still alive.
Since I have come here I have not left this room.
I am restless, angry and weak
I want to get stronger so I can spend time with my daughters and grandchildren I am still alive.
I am still alive. I feel alone even though I am surrounded by people
Music makes me feel alive and I want to sing louder and louder so everyone will hear me Music helps me to remember, but it sometimes makes others cry I am still alive.
I am still alive. “Crying is good for you child”,
I cried too when my Mother died.
Let’s sing together for you are as beautiful as the moonlight to me Music makes me feel more at peace.
I am still alive. (Cortez, 2018)
I leave you with this orchestral piece by my favorite composer, Arvo Part, that has so much emotional meaning to me and brings me back to a sense of connection to myself in times of dissociation from humanity. Sit back, dim the lights, raise the volume and just listen…