Music in Tough Times

I’ve played piano to entertain myself since I was a kid. Until my 60s, I didn’t realize how good it is for my mind. When I found out reading and playing music staves off memory deterioration, I was all in. Alzheimer’s Disease lurks in my family tree.

Unpacking from a move a few years back, I unburied the flute my parents bought me in junior high. What the heck, I thought. Why not? I spent some money on repairs.

Then, on the internet, I learned about the Gulf Coast Flute Choir, a local non-audition group. Rehearsals were beginning in September for the holiday concert. I was thrilled with my timing.

Music Helps Us Connect

At first rehearsal, the notes I thought would come to me like riding a bike were torture. I sat most of the session with my flute on my lap, embarrassed but determined as hell. After rehearsal, several of my woodwind sisters told me how out of practice they were first season. It made me feel better… less embarrassed.

By the second rehearsal, I knew all but the most difficult parts of my pieces and could wiggle my fingers fast enough to fake it. I was dreaming of Sleigh Bells in October and whistled Jingle Bell Rock through November. When the lights went up in December to a packed house, I’d never felt so full of Christmas spirit.

The standing ovation gave us all chills because we knew how far we’d come as a group. But performance and applause are far from the best part. The synchrony of playing music together is like stimulating conversation. The feeling lingers. It’s a mix of happiness and accomplishment.

A Best Friend in Hard Times

My flute kept me company through a late-in-life divorce, the stressful sale of my business and yet one more move. But this time, I didn’t pack it away to gather dust for 40 years. Even when we aren’t practicing for a concert, I have fun playing along with recorded backgrounds. There is so much to choose from online.

Now, my flute keeps me company during Covid. It is so disappointing not to be able to have in-person rehearsals and concerts. But it’s a new day, and old dogs can learn new tricks.

Our conductor assigned our parts for Christmas, along with a “click” track. We practiced, recorded, and uploaded each piece. Ta da! Gulf Coast Flute Choir’s 2020 Virtual Holiday Concert.

Mental Calisthenics

An article by a Johns Hopkins specialist calls music a total brain workout. “If you want to keep your brain engaged through the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout… Music is structural, mathematical, and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.”

Scientists have learned music stimulates more corners of the brain than any other function. Music can reduce pain and speed the recovery of stroke patients. The MRIs of some memory loss patients light up when they hear classical music. lt’s a spoonful of the kind of medicine that’s good for everybody.

Adults who had music training as children have more robust brainstem responses to sound than adults with no music training. It disturbs me, with all that we know about the good of music, that one of the first things cut from school budgets is often music.

When things are tight, a lot of parents can’t justify the cost of private lessons, no matter how good it is for the intellect. Thank you again, Ms. Internet, for all the training options. What a wonderful gift from a grandparent: music lessons benefit your grandchild for a lifetime!

Music and Meditation Combine for Relaxation

I don’t make time to meditate every day, and I don’t take time to play music every day unless it’s concert season. Almost always, I do one or the other. The benefits are much alike. Stress and anxiety are reduced. Blood pressure is lower. Sleep and memory can improve.

For me, there isn’t room in my head for random thoughts when I play. I’m too busy reading and making notes. I’m forced to concentrate on my breath so there’s enough to hold the long notes.

With meditation, I struggle to clear my head, but it usually works. Sometimes I have to mentally mumble “in… out” to remember to concentrate on breathing. I think combining music and meditation helped me though some rough days. I’m glad I’ve got them in life’s toolbox.

Even if you don’t play music or aren’t convinced about meditation, I’m sure belting it out in the shower in all your naked glory is a great way to start the day, too. Breathe deep into your gut and let it rip. You will feel great!

Wishing you happy holidays!

How often do you enjoy music? Do you play a musical instrument? When did you learn? Have you tried online lessons? Please share your experience with music!