Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 60
Music enhances our quality of life
by Julie Jaffee Nagel
doubt that any musician (and many nonmusicians) reading this article would argue
that the survival of music and art is critical
to our nation's well-being. The final words in
the previous sentence are the title of an article I wrote
in 2008 and just rediscovered when going through some
files in my office.1 In writing an opinion piece for our local
newspaper (now an online remnant of what it used to be),
I was addressing the atmosphere of the 2008 presidential
election and the frightening economic crisis. My thoughts
about inclusion of the musical and all arts as important to
the "fabric of our emotional lives"2 were conveyed when
the governor in Michigan had to make difficult decisions
regarding budget cuts. I felt chilled when the Michigan
governor decided to cut funding to music and the arts.
I argued that we must tune in to our cultural heritage to
enhance quality of life.
I am writing a variation on that theme once again
in 2017, following another presidential election. The
intervening years have deepened my understanding and
commitment to promoting music and music teaching
as important for providing mastery and a sense of
competence for the student and performer, satisfaction
and income for the teacher, and pleasure for the listener.
I have written in Clavier Companion and elsewhere that
music is our first mode of communication in the coos,
aaaahs, and gurgles between baby and parents, and that
these wordless sounds hold great meaning in forging
relationships and feelings about oneself and others long
before language develops or music lessons commence.
Music is a form of communication and music lessons are
"life-long lessons" that reach far beyond the walls of the
teaching studio and concert hall.
The power of music evokes and expresses a range
of emotions. Combining my music and psychoanalytic
backgrounds, I wrote in Melodies of the Mind:
I believe my attraction to the piano at a
very young age and my immersion in music
professionally were unconscious motivations
that decades later contributed to my
appreciation of the depth, elegance, and
musicality of psychoanalytic ideas...I became
curious about what resonated in me when
words had limited value. Why, for example, did
Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" comfort
me immediately following the heartbreaking,
untimely death of my mother? Why did I
gravitate to the piano at the age of four and
pursue it seriously?.... For as long as I can
remember, I have always felt a resonance and
a romance with "serious" music because it has
provided comfort, assuaged sadness, made me
feel happy, joyful, strong, and sometimes evoked
a melancholy I did not understand and could not
express verbally... music helped me feel what I
could not articulate."3
My emotional life has been deeply entwined with music
since childhood and continues to be.
There are varied implications regarding music for
composer, performer, and listener, as music can provide
accompaniment and enhance life events such as
weddings, funerals, parties, and official ceremonies. Can
you imagine a movie without music to enhance feelings?
Even background noise, in varying decibels, is heard as
music in department stores, restaurants, coffee shops,
hotel lobbies, and elevators. Music has been used as
propaganda to promote or suppress political ideology.
Music can tell a story (Richard Strauss' Til Eulenspiegel
or Don Juan), demonstrate a mood (Debussy's Images,
Beethoven's "Pastorale" Symphony), and illustrate a
narrative (Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf). An individual's
reactions to music can provide psychological "data" as an
aural pathway to psychological life. Many of my patients
(both musicians and non-musicians) talk about how music
is integral to their lives, thoughts, and feelings.
In my previous column, "Rethinking the Master Class,"4 I
emphasized the importance, particularly in the twenty-first
century, of conceptualizing music lessons as more than
teaching how to play an instrument. I have emphasized
the relevance of using music outside the teaching studio
and concert hall. I believe the same is true for professionals
in mental health as there is value in creatively sharing
psychological concepts beyond the consulting room.
My thoughts about the uses of music beyond its
traditional venues have been influenced by Joseph Polisi's
book, The Artist as Citizen.5 Both Polisi (president of The
Juilliard School) and I emphasize the crucial importance
for musicians to engage in social discourse in society.