A dear friend of my family suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. One of the few remaining ways to reach him is through favorite songs, especially when performed live by familiar voices. Sometimes his response is happy- a “Yeah man!” that springs from his days of being a soulful musician. Other times it’s sorrowful and brings about moans and tears. The sadness may be a small recognition of what’s been lost or what is no longer accessible, or it may be something else entirely. We can’t be sure why his responses vary the way they do- why the same song that induces smiles and exclamations one day can inflict pain the next. What we do know is, whether negative or positive, it’s music that spurs his response. It’s music that allows his wife and his kids a glimpse of the vibrant man they remember. I think about him often and wonder at the power of song.
Music is emotional by nature. It has long been a part of human ceremonies- both celebratory and mournful. Songs have a unique way of helping us express our feelings and invite others to join us in our emotional state. The first dance at a wedding reception is a perfect example. We express joy through singing familiar celebratory songs and moving our bodies. It feels good to have others come together in this way–that’s why the ritual continues. And it wouldn’t be the same without music.
As a speech-language pathologist, a musician, and an instructor of children’s Music Together® classes, I’ve had many opportunities to witness how music affects both children and adults. It can capture a child’s attention and light them up, even when little else does. Making and sharing music with people in your life can bring you closer, offer support in hard times, and spread joy in happier ones. I’m constantly learning more about the power of music and it never ceases to fascinate me.
This post is an introduction to a series of entries about the importance of music and its deep connection to human cognition and emotion. As I specialize in working with children who have difficulties with communication, there will naturally be a focus on the therapeutic effect music has on children’s development of speech, language, and social/emotional skills. But as I continue to read and learn about the broad effect that music has on all of us (socially, emotionally, cognitively), I may share some broader findings with you as well. My hope is that this post will develop into an ongoing discussion where readers share their own experiences with music and connect with a greater community. Please let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like me to focus an entry on and I will do my best. I’d love to hear from you.
Laura Allison, MA, CCC/SLP is both a certified, licensed speech-language pathologist who works at Communication Therapy/Chicago, and a certified Music Together® instructor who teaches multiple classes at Merry Music Makers each week.