The Healing Powers of Music

The Healing Powers of Music

Music Director’s Message – November 24, 2020

Courtney Cummings, Music Director

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” -Dr. Oliver Sacks

Music inspires so many things – it can alleviate depression, mirror our feelings of sadness or joy, move us to dance, and allow us to communicate with others and with ourselves on another level.  In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks investigates the power of music to move us, to heal us, and to haunt us.  As a neurologist, he explains how the brain functions differently with music, and how it occupies more portions of the brain than language alone.  This particular book follows individual stories of how music has improved the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and amnesia, among other medical conditions.  Lines of communication open for the first time, memories are unlocked, and words are spoken when there once were none.  If music has that kind of power, what impact does it have on the rest of us? 

Think about your favorite song.  Did it just bring a smile to your face?  Did you start to hum the melody or sing the lyrics in your head?  Did your mood shift?  Music stimulates the brain centers that register reward and pleasure, which is why listening to that favorite song can actually make you feel happy.

We are all living in the pandemic world of 2020.  It’s not one we have seen before.  Sadness, loss, chaos, and uncertainty have the potential to overwhelm us at any moment.  But what if we make a different choice?  What if we choose to harness to power of harmonized sound to improve our well-being?  What if we create our own soundtrack, filled with love, light, and hope?

Lucky for us, our Jewish tradition is filled with beautiful melodies that inspire and evoke awe.  The soulful words of our liturgy have been artfully set to music by Jewish masters of composition dating back to the time of King Solomon.  Music has been used by our people for thousands of years as a means to tell a story, set a tone or mood, and keep our traditions alive.  It has sustained us this far and will continue to do so, as long as we allow it.

This being the 21st century, we can access music with the touch of our finger, likely from the device sitting in our pocket.  Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Pandora make it easy to listen to our favorites –  anytime, anywhere.  Harness this age of technology to explore new music and expand your horizons.  Need some guidance?  Here are a few soul-nourishing Jewish favorites:

Noah Aronson and Elana Arian’s collaboration of Ahavah Rabbah is a soulful, simple setting of a prayer from the morning liturgy that reaches into your soul and celebrates the power of God’s love.  

In Heal Us Now, composer Leon Sher writes a heart-felt prayer for healing, health, and stability, utilizing texts from different sources and a gentle driving chord structure.

This prayer of thanks, Modim Anachnu Lach, has both a grounded feel, but also an air of whimsy and triumph in its musical-theater style approach to the liturgical text and interpretive English translation.  It reminds us to be grateful for the little things. 

Louis Lewandowski’s 19th century setting of Halleluyah harnesses the power of the voice to sing praises to God.  This particular performance from the Boston Zamir Chorale also gives insight into the composer’s history and life story and is sure to leave you exhilarated.  

Stand Strong by Laurie Akers encompasses themes of strength, togetherness, inclusiveness, and peace, and it is sure to inspire every listener to feel uplifted and empowered.

Our journey this year has been tough. And the road may continue to be bumpy for a long time, but we have a tool to make our own experience just a little bit smoother.  Make time and space for music in your life, as it might just be the medicine you need to survive this trying time with an open heart, gentle mind, and nourished soul.

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