Why music is the most wonderful thing

If you’re a music lover, like me, then you know its power. You understand that feeling you get when you hear certain songs. Memories are sparked, sometimes curling your lips into a smile, and other times filling your eyes with tears.

I have a number of key songs in my life. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but chief among them is Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. It’s one of my earliest memories of music. Featured on her Tapestry album, released in 1971 one year before my birth, all I picture when I hear this song is my Mum, singing it softly to me as I lay in bed as a little kid, dozing off to sleep and feeling arguably more comfortable than I’ve ever felt since.

There are songs that remind me of past romances, both good and bad, dear friends at home and afar, family members alive and past, playing drums for the first time, learning guitar with my Dad, who taught me Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones and sang terribly as we covered Queen’s I Want To Break Free together, somehow blundering through the lyrics amidst uncontrollable giggles.

It’s fair to say that music defines me in so many ways. It’s always the first “friend” I call upon in times of need. I can sit for hours listening to it and it’s one of the few things I’ve ever discovered that I can genuinely say I love.

So it was with extreme interest, and a fair dose of delight, that I discovered Alive Inside via a friend’s post on Facebook; a documentary centred on this very topic, although pertaining to the effects of music therapy on the elderly, particularly those who suffer from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers.

Social worker Dan Cohen and neurologist Oliver Sacks describe the way that patients “awaken” when music unlocks memories. Watch this trailer for a startling example of that in Henry.

You’ll have heard in the short an interviewer ask Henry what music does to him. “It gives me the feeling of love, of romance. I figure right now the world needs to come into music, singing. You’ve got beautiful music here.”

He knows the feeling I described earlier, even through the muddled mind he now possesses.

That’s the raw power of music right there.

Maria Judkis, writing in The Washington Post, asks her readers: “Will Lady Gaga or Skrillex be able to provoke such an emotional response from an Alzheimer’s patient in 60 years?”

Personally, I don’t think that’s a question that needs to be asked. For some, the answer will most definitely be “yes”. But let’s not assume music-related memories can only be triggered by classic tunes, seminal numbers performed by the supposed demigods of the music industry. Some of the most appalling compositions can spark something in your mind that makes you smile and recall a moment in your life. Again, raw power demonstrated.

Alive Inside opens in New York next week on 18 April 2012. I’d love to be there to see it. I’m sure it will give many of us hope that even in our darkest, most depressive states, music can light the way to better times, or at the very least a memory of them so we can once again, even only momentarily, feel “alive inside” once more. Just remember, as Carole sang all those years ago, in music at least, “you’ve got a friend”.

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