“Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”
― Robert Browning
The local university was hosting Freedom Sings, a project of the First Amendment Center. Their description says, “American history meets rock ‘n roll to put together a remarkable story…about how guitars and drums changed the path of history because they were accompanied by the kind of lyrics that make a difference.” A friend of ours was going to be performing, and that was reason enough to attend (read the previous article about ‘showing up’, you’ll understand). In my seat, I was quickly drawn in by the energy of the students filling the hall and the performers and instruments occupying the stage. As Ken Paulson, president of First Amendment Center, explained the purpose behind the performance — connecting free speech and music — I felt the power of the music. As Browning says, my solitude was peopled at once.
When I write, I hope my words are meaningful, even making a difference for the reader. Lyrics of the songs we hear have been meaningful to people in happy or sad or frustrating situations. Lyrics, though get a tune. The tune makes the difference. A tune helps us hold the words in our heads, and in our hearts. As the songs were performed and their history was shared, I found that I moved between joy and sadness, teary at times. The music was powerful.
The power of music (with words and without) is well-documented. A study in 2011 showed that listening to music increases the dopamine in a person’s brain, helping to ease depression and anxiety. Another study has shown that infants remain calmer when music is played for them than when sweet words are spoken to them. Cognitive, emotional, and social health were positively impacted when patients with dementia participated in singing or listening to music. Studies show time and again that lives are positively impacted through every part of music.
Some people are born to make music, and we all seem to be created to enjoy music — the way it resonates with our bodies and minds. When a songwriter is moved by things happening in the world, he or she pens lyrics that will be joined by a tune to change the listener’s vision of the world.
Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind speaks to all of the injustices he saw in the world in the 1960’s — “how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry, Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died…” Sam Cooke, inspired by Dylan’s words, penned his own tune A Change is Gonna Come, with words that remind us of the way he was treated as a black man, “I go to the movie and I go downtown and somebody keep telling me don’t hang around.”
The ability of music to benefit the human brain coupled with lyrics that teach about the world the writer sees can combine to make a powerful punch for the listener — for generations to come. As we sat that day with a younger crowd, I found it exciting to think we all can learn the same lessons from music — compassion for people in different walks of life, empowerment to speak up when we see actions threatening freedoms, and hope that each of us can make meaningful contributions to conversations in society.
I asked Ken Paulson to offer words to explain this magic — “At a time when too few people appreciate the importance of both free speech and listening to each other, songs with meaning can open up the eyes of students who otherwise might not engage with important issues of the day. Thomas Jefferson and Lady Gaga can be a potent combination.”
Find some tunes this week that speak to you and let the emotion wash over you as you benefit both your brain and your social conscience.