Tag: benefits of making music together

Sharing Music During a Pandemic

So, it’s been a while since my last post. Since March, the places and events where we share music have been closed, postponed, cancelled.  It has been such a hard time for touring musicians and venue owners, and also for their patrons. And yet, many of us are finding ways to share music.

I have watched some great live stream concerts with virtual tip jars. I’ve participated in an on-line song circle – not exactly a jam since only one of us plays at a time, but still nice to have conversations and see familiar faces. To celebrate Hillside Festival , we watched pre-recorded videos of some wonderful performances and then had a small number of people – nicely distanced – around a campfire. Coming up next weekend is Play Music on the Porch Day – I envision people playing music from their balconies, front steps, driveways, and filling their neighbourhoods with music. (Visit http://www.playmusicontheporchday.com/ to learn more or to add your location to the music map)

It is clear to me that, even though current times has made it difficult to gather, live music is as important as ever:

The ability of music to lift spirits in times of uncertainty and grief.

The role of music in amplifying the call for human rights and solidarity.

The social interactions that are created and nurtured by making music together.

To quote songwriter and performer Alysha Brilla: “All these shut downs have confirmed the sneaking suspicion I’ve had my whole life that gathering together with music, dance and celebration are one of the best parts of the human experience.”

What can we do to help our musical community weather this storm? If you have stayed employed through the pandemic and have the means, consider making a donation to your favourite arts organization or festival. Support a musician by purchasing their music or buying a ticket to a virtual concert. Check in with someone you would have normally seen at a jam or song circle, share a story or maybe a song they are working on. Share your music whenever you can.

How have you been keeping your musical connections alive? Share ideas, links, upcoming events in the comments.

Hillside Festival 2017 – Singing Workshop

Hillside Festival (in its 34th year) is my favourite event of the year – a weekend of fabulous food, music and community – and this year my contribution is to run a group singing workshop. So many benefits of singing together and such a fitting place to celebrate this.

Thank you to everyone who took a precious festival hour and shared it with us at the singing workshop. For those of you who attended the workshop (and maybe even those who didn’t), you might be interested in having some of the links and resources I mentioned. Here they are:

All Together Now – workshops, women’s choir, co-ed choir, women’s music weekend

Choir Nation – has drop in choir groups in Toronto, Niagara and Hamilton

Choir! Choir! Choir! – drop-in group singing that also does lots of performing (Clinton’s Tavern, Toronto)

Choir Place – helps you find a choir (international)

Sing Out – supports and promotes traditional and contemporary folk music

Research on the benefits of singing: 

Singing & Health – research review

Singing Changes your Brain – article in Time magazine

The Neurochemistry of Music – Mona Lisa Chanda & Daniel Levitin

Review – The World in Six Songs (Daniel J. Levitin)

The World in Six Songs by Daniel J. Levitin (author of Your Brain on Music) seemed like a gimmick, categorizing music into 6 boxes to show its influence on human evolution and culture. But I got past this premise to see the book as a vehicle for exploring the role of music in our lives – individually, socially and historically.

Levitin groups music in the functional categories of: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love. His supporting evidence for the importance of music in human culture is heavy on evolutionary biology and biochemistry. How did music become a part of every know human culture? The ability to create and/or appreciate music gives a survival advantage; for example, the ability to act in a unified way when battle is imminent, the sharing/memorizing of important knowledge without written language, or (more obviously) the ability to attract allies and mates. The experience of engaging in music stimulates the release of various neurchemicals that make us feel good (dopamine) and facilitate bonding (oxytocin). Levitin uses everything from hymns to punk  rock, from national anthems to lullabies, as examples of how music is linked to human endeavours.

I found that Levitin’s arguments were rambling, with a good dose of name-dropping. The six categories overlapped and some of the examples used were stretched to make them fit the chapter heading.  In the end, Levitin does not make a convincing case that  music’s role in human culture can be captured in those limited categories. But – maybe because it resonated with many of my beliefs about music – I enjoyed the discussion of music as catalyst for social bonding and sense of well-being.

[The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, Daniel J. Levitin (2008) Viking Canada, Toronto]


Musical Musings: The Facets of Music

I see live music as having intertwining yet distinct facets:  Music as Performance, Music as Personal Expression, and Music as Communication, and Music as Community. People who are drawn to open musical spaces are often pursuing one of these experiences. These are not categories that are meant to divide or discriminate – one event or piece of music could be one or all of these.  It is a wonderful musical phenomenon to achieve them all.

Music as performance

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a given skill, then the performer demonstrates this mastery.  The technical proficiency and confidence are something to admire and appreciate – a result of talent and dedication to their art.  We’ve experienced it: the orchestra that sounds like one living entity, the unbelievable guitar solo, the perfect vocal harmonies – these performers keep you in their thrall until the last note.  This is the artist, the person as fluent in the language of music as the poet is with words.  Musicians often use an open stage opportunity to test their mettle as a performer.  Given the diversity represented at these events, listeners never know when they might be treated to a musical gem.

Music as personal expression

From a simple song to a complex orchestral composition, music has long been used to convey emotion, tell stories, capture historical events and cultural imperatives.  The urge to express heartache or joy finds its way again and again into song – think of blues or gospel.

Personally, I have found song writing to be a cathartic experience.  An idea or event that has me preoccupied will find its way into a song.  For a while I feel the need to sing it a lot, giving it life, venting the emotion.  After a while it loses its “heat” – I still love the melody, the words still resonate with me but I don’t have to relive the passion that gave rise to the song everyone time I sing it (so I can sing it without crying!).

One of the beautiful things about live music events that feature original songwriting is how personal each song is.  Each person has a story to tell and the lyrics might make us cry or chuckle or give us pause to think but they all add a dimension to the tapestry that describes our lives.

Music as communication

Watching the communication between musicians is one of the pleasures of live music.  Playing together requires listening while performing, a simultaneous give and take, merge and contrast, harmony and counterpoint – a real life example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

And of course there is the communication with an audience.  If this was a dispensable part of the process we’d just stay home and play music in the living room.  For some, it’s the challenge of really nailing a song at one go, or the boost we get from our listeners’ appreciation and feedback.  Or it can be a way to share our ideas (political, ideological songs) or enthusiasm for a certain artist (favourite covers).

Music as community

Music builds community in the very basic way of people coming together to share a common interest.  People who play music together form a sort of micro-culture where boundaries are set and rules are accepted: acoustic or amplified, how long each person can play, what kind of music is played, whether encouragement or honest feedback is expected.  Open musical spaces are unique communities where anyone is welcome to play regardless of background.  They provide a place to transcend our day-to-day routines, a place to support each others’ creative endeavours, a place to find and nurture friendship.

If you visit enough open music sessions (open stage or song circle or jam) you will likely experience many facets of music: the magical performance, the window into someone’s personal experience, the exchange of ideas, and the feeling of community that comes from a shared music experience.