“If music be the food of love, play on.”

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

Might William Shakespeare have been onto something when he wrote these words? What happens to our state of being, and even our actual physiology, when we listen to music?

Music has been shown to alter our mood and state of being[1]. It has been shown to change what’s going on in the very cells of our bodies, our immune systems, the hormones that govern stress and the chemistry of the brain[2]. Music has been proven effective in the treatment of depression[3], whilst also linked to an increased risk of major depressive disorder for teenagers[4].

Hmmm… there is clearly ‘food for thought’ here as to the impact of music upon our lives, both in the ways that may be truly ‘good for us’ and also those that may be not so beneficial… ‘Play on’ by all means if music is truly supportive to our body and wellbeing, and then perhaps reconsider if it is not so.

So what might happen if we were to look at music in a way that’s akin to the food and substances we consume? Would we read the contents on the jar, the label, a little more closely?

Our daily ‘exposure’ to music can be quite extensive in modern living. Whether we are making our own music or listening, whether we are singing along, performing, teaching, or taking a seat in the concert hall or rock stadium – we are all actively participating, often far more than we may realise.

We may have our ‘daily fix’ via our smartphones and stereos, the music we go to – to nurture, soothe, wallow in, uplift, release, rev us up, wind us down – the music we exercise to (sometimes ‘unavoidably’ at the gym!), the songs we sing in the shower or the car . . . when no-one’s watching. Music is present in so much of our lives and ‘unavoidable’ in so many of the places we go in supermarkets, shops, elevators, and when we are on hold to our insurance company! But wait, then there is the enormous role music can play in a movie, a TV show, the news, sporting events and advertising – the branding of just about any consumer item – cars, jewellery, cereal, margarine, retail chains and more… Phew!

There’s the music we choose to hear, and that which we’d rather be without – from the thumping beat of the neighbour’s dance music, to the kid next to you on the train with her headphones so loud you wonder how she has any hearing left.

And then there’s the music that truly connects and reminds us of the amazing beings we really are; the music that has the potential to heal.

Music permeates so many facets of our lives. I don’t feel I’m going out on a limb here to suggest its influence on our bodies and beings is not only ‘vast’, but actually gargantuan, colossal – nothing short of enormous. Do we really pay attention to this fact? Is it possible that we may not always discern just what effect all this music might be having upon us, even to the point of affecting our very health and wellbeing? Hmmm… can’t help but agree that Mr Shakespeare was definitely onto something.

And so, could it be worth our while to consider the choices that we do have around the music that fills our lives – that we might discern truly, whether it be ‘the food of love’ for us, or not? If music were a dietary choice, we’d be likely to take this seriously. We may eat the greasy hamburger and the donut, or drink the beer – but we are, for the most part, well aware of what we are doing in such cases, i.e. of what is, or is not, truly supportive in regards to our vitality and wellbeing.

So might we stop to look at our musical choices with that same awareness? We can start to ‘tune in’ a little more deeply to just what it is we are ingesting in our daily musical diet – the choices we are making that just might be clogging our arteries, and those which may actually be keeping us healthy.

Music affects our physiology – our body and being: fact. Its prevalence in our lives deserves our attention. Most surely ‘food for thought’, and well worth the exploration… So let us ‘play on’ Mr Shakespeare! Let’s explore more of the contents of the jar and see what we might find. I, for one, am super keen to delve deeper…


Reference:

  • [1]

    van Goethem, A. and J. Sloboda. "The Functions Of Music For Affect Regulation". Musicae Scientiae 15.2 (2011): 208-228. Web.

  • [2]

    Chanda, Mona Lisa and Daniel J. Levitin. "The Neurochemistry Of Music". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17.4 (2013): 179-193. Web.

  • [3]

    Erkkila, J. et al. "Individual Music Therapy For Depression: Randomised Controlled Trial". The British Journal of Psychiatry 199.2 (2011): 132-139. Web.

  • [4]

    Primack, Brian A. et al. "Using Ecological Momentary Assessment To Determine Media Use By Individuals With And Without Major Depressive Disorder". Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 165.4 (2011): n. pag. Web.

  • By Victoria Warburton, Music teacher & complementary health therapist

    Victoria is a complementary therapist and music teacher with a passion for true and soul-full expression – in music, movement and all of life.

  • Photography: Emilia Pettinato