The Underrated Power of Music
How music helped me keep my mental health in check amidst a global pandemic
This is going to sound super biased coming from an amateur musician but I really think music is one of, if not the most powerful thing in existence. Yes, I know it sounds super cheesy and insane but just think about it, music is essentially just a bunch of sound waves vibrating at different frequencies and yet, it has the power to move us. Music does not just make us bob our heads or get up to dance, it can move us from one feeling to the next in just mere seconds. It can tell us a whole story and even transport our minds to a different place and time, invoking not only our personal memories but also the feelings associated with them. But it also has one other power which is underrated; the music we listen to is a reflection of not just how we are feeling but also how we want to be feeling.
I think I speak for anyone when I say that 2020 has not been easy at all. It has just been one disaster after the next and the world certainly isn’t done with the current one. With COVID-19 still lurking in almost every corner, a return to normalcy does not seem probable anytime soon. For the past few months, everyone around the globe has had the opportunity to experience what it is like to be locked down or quarantined, leaving their houses only for essential activities such as grocery shopping and exercising.
It is really no surprise then, that many people including myself are experiencing higher bouts of neuroticism than we otherwise would. I personally struggle with anxiety and with the influx of negative headlines filling up my notification bar, there have been days where I just wanted to lie down, sleep and avoid any work or tasks that I had to complete. Everything seemed so bleak and with no end to the suffering and chaos in sight, my motivation began to waver as well. However, there was a silver lining to being trapped at home all day. In the months that led up to the COVID-19 situation, I was so busy with other things that I did not have any time to really sit down and properly listen to pieces or even practice the piano. Due to the lock-down, I now had way more time to listen, connect and grow even more appreciative of music. This also meant an increase in the amount of introspection I did while listening to those pieces.
I had been diving deep into the repertoire and live performances of the critically acclaimed pianist Thelonious Monk, one of the greatest contributors to jazz as a whole. At the time, Monk’s playing was completely foreign to the ear as he had taken an almost percussive approach to the piano, attacking the keys rather than gliding across them with the smooth legato runs you would expect of a typical bebop pianist. He also made very unorthodox choices in his solos, employing dissonant harmonies, melodies outside the key and even unfamiliar rhythms while accompanying other soloists. This approach always made Monk give off the impression that he was always about to make a mistake. Although he is highly revered now, it took a long time before critics learnt how to appreciate his sound.
The reason I brought up Monk is because as I kept listening to his music, I found myself mood slowly being lifted out of the gutter and attempting to complete whatever it was that I needed to do for the day, despite feeling like absolute shit at times. See, that’s really strange right? This was a man who employed quite possibly one of the most unorthodox approaches to the piano and yet, I did not find myself getting upset with or even questioning them. Instead, I embraced the unpredictability of it all, eagerly awaiting to see what sort of chaos he would come up with next because I was sure that I would find myself smiling no matter what. And so at this point, I really had to ask myself:
What is it about Monk’s playing that was able to move me from a place of complete shitty-ness to wanting to actually try and be better?
Remember how I said at the start of the article that the music you listen to is a reflection of how you feel and also how you want to feel? It took me a while to realise but it was the latter that was in play here. I had been so caught up reading about all the negative things happening in the world that I just felt completely overwhelmed by the chaos and could not bring myself to do anything else even though I should have. Listening to Monk changed that because his playing style was the direct opposite of how I was feeling. When Monk played, he threw himself into awkward spots but he always came out on top no matter what. In other words,
Monk did not just shy away from chaos, he embraced it.
This was precisely how I wanted to be feeling, to able to do whatever I needed to do despite the ongoing chaos in the world.
This is what I mean when I say that music has a power which is underrated. When we seek out new music, we are not just seeking out something that helps us validate our feelings. Whether we realise it or not, we are also seeking out a solution, a new way of looking at things so that we can better navigate our own personal predicaments.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that music is not a cure for anxiety and depression. But I must say, it has made the journey slightly easier for me.