Each month I try to contribute to the Bloggers for Peace topic, and this month we are asked to think about music.
Let me start with the death of a brain.
My mother has dementia. I have mentioned this before so some of you will be nodding along at this point, thinking, “Oh yes, that’s right, EBL’s mother is the one with dementia” and so on.
To be fair she is not as far gone yet as she will be, but further along than anyone would really like. This means she knows roughly where she is, who we are (although on her bad days it takes a moment or two), and how to do some knitting. She likes to look at the pictures in the newspaper and read out the headlines to whoever is there. She likes to read books, although several at a time because she can’t really follow the story and forgets which book she was reading last. She likes to have the TV on so there is light and movement in the room, and to have the light on the electric fire on, so it looks like coals are burning in a friendly, comforting way, even in the heat wave we have just had.
The other thing she likes to do I have also mentioned before; she likes to sing. She sings to herself throughout the day, usually “Que sera, sera” over and over. It was a favourite song of hers when I was little. When she is singing it I know she is feeling OK.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, I am led to understand, that a dementia sufferer who becomes distressed can be calmed and soothed by music. There is a growing body of research to indicate that music therapy may be helpful in overcoming the loss of language production and comprehension in advancing dementia. Google it – there are lots of studies out there.
According to one researcher:
‘We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.’
Music is with us throughout our lives and plays an important role in maintaining our mental health and well-being. It can reach the lizard brain, by-passing the logical bits that get in the way of feeling and experiencing the world. We hear a tune and we are absorbed, sometimes in a memory, sometimes in the joy of the moment.
The other week I watched the BBC Prom with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as well as his Coriolan Overture.
I like a bit of Prom on a Friday evening to finish off the week and settle down for the weekend. I like Beethoven, in part because I grew up listening to a lot of it. My father loved Beethoven and played him frequently. I could identify the Symphonies before I knew who the Beatles were. I liked Beethoven because he was deaf but still wrote incredible symphonies.
My dad would have loved the modern world. He was a geek of the first water. He would have loved computers and digital TV and streaming radio and downloadable music and digital cameras and Netflix and Skype. He would have loved the Proms on BBC4 on Friday evening. We would have sat and watched them together in some kind of cosy family cocoon. We always watched Last Night of the Proms; it was the only time I was allowed to stay up late when I was little, and we both conducted furiously to the Sea Shanties and Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. It was better than Eurovision.
So as I sat and watched the Prom the other week I felt a great sadness because there was Beethoven’s music and I wanted to turn to dad and ask what he thought of this conductor, Runnicles. Dad was a big fan of von Karajan until he discovered Barenboim; he was always open to new versions.
I felt such a sense of loss as I realised I couldn’t have that conversation, yet the music made my dad feel so close to me, twenty years after he died. I suspect he may have retained his allegiance to Barenboim, but he would have enjoyed the performance nonetheless, especially the Coriolan Overture.
Thinking about dad brought home to me why music is such a comfort for my mother. That effect of reaching into your heart and soul means it is connecting to pretty much the only thing left when dementia has taken away the superficial veneer of speech and rationality. In this way it brings her peace.
May music bring peace to you and those you love, wherever they find themselves.
Other blogs on music and peace include: