Music - The Most Powerful Medium. How Music Can Affect Our Moods, Minds and Lives
Music is undoubtedly one of the most powerful mediums - perhaps even the most powerful of all. Enjoyed the world over, music engulfs us with subliminal messages and feelings, subtly playing with our emotions and affecting our moods. Music of varying genres has the ability to resonate deeply within our hearts, minds and souls. It can aid us when we are feeling down, empower us and inspire us to want to be bigger and better. Music can heal, calm and energise us, help us to find strength and connect us with others.
Of course, there are other mediums that can instill deep feelings and relay a strong message - books, movies and television dramas are a few of the most obvious. But in contrast to these examples, music delivers its message in mere moments. Popular music is readily accessible - we all have time to listen, often even when we are busy doing other things. Runners often like to wear headphones, using upbeat tracks to give them the motivation and energy to complete the run. Here, it is the rhythm and beat of the music, rather than the lyrics, which matters. Sometimes, the music will find us even when we are not looking for it at all - think of a coffee in a cafe with a track playing in the background; the laid back tones of a jazz band stumbled upon during a spontaneous outing; even a soundtrack within a movie itself. All of these occasions can alter the way we are feeling at the time - perhaps the track in the cafe is beautiful and soothing and helps us to forget a stressful, tiring day. The jazz band is so laid back that it brings about a feeling of unhurried calm, as though the very meaning of life is to relax in the moment, free of all worries. Maybe the track in the movie is profound and moving, igniting a new perspective.
A Message of Peace and Tolerance
Music 'Speaks to People'
Music has the power of being able to 'speak' to many people at once. Songs that are especially popular will reach the ears of many - simply turning on the radio whilst driving is often an introduction to something new. Music can bring something to us even when we are not looking for it - we hear it, we feel it, we step back and absorb the power, or the vibe of it. Sometimes it might strike a strong chord with us and we know that we want to hear it again.
Since music, particularly popular music, can reach out to large numbers of people at the same time, the vibes within it can affect entire groups. This is especially true when it comes to teenagers and young adults. This age category is so often looking for something more in their lives - something different from their parents, something that helps them to feel part of a group. In fact, many 'groups' of young people are categorised by their choice of music, as well as their adopted style that ensures they are part of the group - punks, goths and emos are examples. Music can also be used to deliver a widespread message - whether that message is positive or negative. John Lennon's 'Imagine' and 'Give Peace a Chance' are two examples of past songs which promote a message of peace and tolerance. John Lennon used music to 'speak to people'; to deliver a message with the hope of bringing about a revolution and social change. He was a forward thinking musician who wanted to break down boundaries, and he used his own music as an expression of this. He did not dictate, but put the idea out there - and people listened.
Purely by coincidence, I was chatting with my mother on the phone today when she mentioned how she had seen a clip on the television of the early 70s, with the well-known song 'San Francisco' playing in the background. 'I felt quite sad,' she said. 'Everyone seemed so happy then, the world seems so much more miserable now'. Although not solely due to the song itself, it is quite true that listening to music from the past can take us back to days gone by. 'San Francisco', with its lyrics of carefree abandon, reminds us of the days of flower power and beads. Even those who were not around or old enough to experience the era itself can pick up the atmosphere of a song - I played it right after I put down the phone, and my mood certainly changed somewhat from stressed and hassled to calm and unfazed.
Music can also ignite ambition and feelings of hope. Personally, I can remember how I felt listening to Whitney Houston's rendition of 'One Moment in Time', for the 1988 Summer Olympics. I was a just a teenager at the time - fifteen years old. It struck a deep chord within me and inspired me to want to do something great in life. Of course, that feeling was already existent somewhere within me, but the song brought it to the surface - each and every time that I heard it. Music that can inspire anybody to want to achieve a dream is powerful and can be life-changing. Society needs people to want to follow their dreams and do their best - especially when it comes to young people; the 'new' generation. It is essential for the younger generation to have the motivation to achieve, otherwise society disintegrates. If one song can inspire even a handful of people to reach for a dream, even for a short while, then it is a wonderful thing.
Raising Awareness and Helping Charites
Frequently, music has been one of the most successful mediums when it comes to raising awareness about charitable causes. Non-profit singles released by groups of high profile celebrities can do wonders in raising large sums of money for worthwhile charities - think Bob Geldof's Band Aid in 1984. The song made millions in aid of those suffering from famine in drought stricken Ethiopia. The song was subsequently followed by the phenomenal Live Aid Concert at Wembley in 1985, for the same cause - the big names of the day graced the stage. The use of music to spread a message is not limited to single artists or groups - gatherings of musicians uniting to achieve a shared goal can have an extremely powerful effect. It can bring to our notice issues that we either don't know much about or don't think about as we go about our daily lives. Suddenly, a simple song or concert unites us in the common goal of humanity. The more recent concert, Live8, was a huge event performed across the G8 nations and coinciding with the G8 Summit. The intention of the concert (another of Bob Geldof's brainwaves) was to bring to the forefront one of the main topics of the G8 Summit - the writing off of enormous third world debt, clearing the path to Make Poverty History. The concerts ensured that the meeting between the eight leaders, and the subject of the debt which ensures that poor countries remain trapped in poverty, did not go unnoticed by the general public.
Madonna on stage at the Live8 Concert in Hyde Park, 2005, with Birhan Woldu, who was first seen in a televised news report as a young, starving child
On the flip side, angry, aggressive and negative lyrics can cause undesirable effects in the minds of the listener. Adolescents and teens are impressionable and pick up on these kinds of lyrics without having a backdrop of life experiences to reflect upon. Bad language in music is now considered by many young people to be 'normal' and 'acceptable' (although it did not litter the lyrics of music from even the relatively recent past). But such songs can often portray a vibe that is the very opposite of peace and positivity. What's more, music that has discontent at the heart of it, as well as being delivered in an aggressive or bitter manner, has the ability to affect the mood and attitude of the listener. Certain modern music tells young people that it is acceptable to use explicit words, refer to women in a derogatory manner and to direct acts or feelings of violence towards others. If young people think of such music as a reflection of 'normal' society, then it has a negative impact on the emotional development of immature minds.
Music Can Help Us Reflect On Our Own Feelings
A good perfomer really feels the words they sing and thus conveys those feelings and the depth of a song to the audience. Words on their own are not enough - great music is more than that. It is as though the artist reaches deeply into their own soul and then touches others. Lyrics and feelings can very often mirror a point in our own lives, perhaps a time when we are facing dificulties and need strength or are looking for a different path. The music strikes a chord within us and we can use it to reflect on our own feelings and emotions. It is almost as though the song itself was written just for us. Sometimes our feelings are buried inside and the music draws them to the surface or sheds a new light on a situation. We hear the words and we think, yes, this is how I am feeling. Sometimes we feel a need to play the same track over and over, as though it is helping us with something personal.
Music is a hugely powerful medium. It can cross boundaries and social divides to reach all people. It can speak a common language. With music we can spread a message or idea, instill hope and ignite a common goal. We can encourage the change of opinions in others, because the words of music spread quickly and easily. Messages and attitudes in music can even help humanity to evolve, if a society or generation is ready for the change - although it can also have the opposite effect if the vibe of the song is bitter or negative. Music can be healing and help us to find our way in life; to confront our own feelings and situations. There is no doubt that music connects us as human beings - and will continue to do so for as long as we grace this earth.