Music is the Remedy

Music features two enduring reflections on music’s role in mental health

By Will Entwistle

I often wonder whether music is a language or not. If music is not a language it clearly has communicative qualities which unite us in different ways. In this way, we can engage with others through, and often because of, music. How, then, can music unite us? Moreover, can music remedy our struggles with mental health?

It has been two years since my first Cognitive Behavioural Therapy session. During this time, I realised that the compulsive evasion of social interaction induced mental health struggles. That is, my misery derived from solitude.

Music remedies our woes by engaging us in human experiences

Psychologist Jung helps us understand that therapy is grounded in ‘personality’ rather than ‘technical tricks.’ Here, Jung’s emphasis on the person over method demonstrates that we, as humans, ultimately need community. In this case, music remedies our woes by engaging us in human experiences. Often, artists convey impressions of experiences in their songs. As such, we can relate, or at least engage, with the artist’s rendering of life and the reception of it from other listeners. Music clarifies the confusion of life and offers company in solitude.

While therapy helps alleviate stress, music also provides us with community. We can form relationships because of shared music preferences and the experiences attached. For instance, DJing reflects the use of music to communicate with an audience. In an interview, the techno artist Helena Hauff mentions that part of her motivation to DJ is because she ‘likes people.’ Hauff’s pithy motive encapsulates music’s communicative nature as she performs for others. Hauff forms bonds with listeners and also facilitates relationships between happy listeners.

I find techno helps remedy mental health struggles by instilling an optimism and perseverance in the listener

Paradoxically, I find techno helps remedy mental health struggles by instilling an optimism and perseverance in the listener. Industrial techno is associated with post-industrial scenery characterised by years of neglect. Yet, techno provides the neglected buildings with a caring community of listeners. Jeff Mill’s The Bells reconciles chaotic and brutal sounds, and buildings, with our inherent need for community. It is this music, over any other, which helps remedy my solitude.

By Anonymous

For me, music is a source of stress and a reliever of stress. In the post exam period of first year of university, I was really busy with various orchestras. Whilst all my friends from college had loads of time on their hands to hang out and do whatever they wanted, I felt drained; I felt so busy and tired, as if none of the people I ate lunch with could understand. Of course, I was doing what I wanted as well, playing beautiful music with a different group of friends, but it still felt hard balancing two completely separate social lives.

I would just listen to Bax’s In Memoriam, think about my part and get lost in the melody

Music, however, also provided release for me from this stress. I would lie on my bed when I had spare time and listen to Bax’s In Memoriam, which we were playing in DUOS. It is a truly beautiful piece. I would just listen to it, think about my part and get lost in the melody. My mind would go blank. It was like meditating, but easier, and I would feel so relaxed.

For two or three hours in the pit of Singin’ in the Rain, I listened to the story and the tap dancing, the actors and the audience. Image credit: Durham University & Sam Harrison.

It’s turning up to rehearsal after rehearsal that allows you to achieve a true sense of relief. In the week running up to the performance of Singin’ in the Rain last year, we had rehearsed so much I could basically play it on autopilot. This turned out to be a relief, as this week coincided with the breakdown of a relationship. I was so consumed by confusion and hurt that I could hardly concentrate. You would expect having seven shows to play in made it worse. In a way it did, I was stressed about deadlines and stressed about my own mess of emotions and stressed about all the time I was spending playing.

My failed relationship reminded me of a far more longstanding, stable and rewarding relationship: the relationship I had with my instrument.

All this time spent playing, however, was easy. For two or three hours in the pit, I listened to the story and the tap dancing, the actors and the audience. I still thought about my failed romance, but I could play without thinking. My failed relationship reminded me of a far more longstanding, stable and rewarding relationship: the relationship I had with my instrument. I played sad slow melodies, and furious double stops and cried in my room until I stopped feeling sad because I wasn’t thinking about why I was sad, I was thinking about the music itself. My instrument comes with a routine and stress of its own, but it also comes with a social life of its own and an escape which is vital for me.

Image credit: deepskyobject via Flickr and Creative Commons.

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