It is difficult to overstate the impact of music during times of hardship. Examples such as Shostakovich’s magnificent Leningrad symphony, the blues from the Mississippi Delta, and the three days of peace at the 1969 Woodstock festival show how music allows us to continue our individual or collective struggle, unite us under a single goal or purpose, and help us through the darkest chapters of human history. These aspects of music may be universal.
What about during the latest global pandemic? How has music helped us get through it? Research done prior to and during the pandemic indicates that there are many health benefits associated with music, from better brain health and wellbeing (Global Council on Brain Health, 2020), to enhancing child development (Habibi et al., 2016), and playing a role in effective therapy (Dai et al., 2020).
Music has been found to improve the wellbeing of individuals in isolation and reduce feelings of loneliness. According to a recent international poll, 90 percent of Indian participants reported that music helped them cope with isolation (Harman, 2020). Another 2021 study by audio company Sound United LLC, involving 2,000 American adults, reported that an overwhelming majority of participants found that music allowed them to cope with the pandemic and reduce their loneliness during lockdown. The same association between music, wellbeing, and feelings of loneliness was found in first year university students from Australia (Vidas et al., 2021) and among participants who felt more emotionally vulnerable in a Spanish survey (Martínez-Castilla et al., 2021).
In a similar vein, Harman (2020) reported that most French and German participants said that music helped increase their productivity. This may be because individuals who have greater levels of wellbeing and feel less lonely can be more productive. Additionally, 75 percent of the Indian participants surveyed reported that they have connected with someone because of their same choice of music (Harman, 2020). The ability of music to unite people from different cultures, religions, or political affiliations has far reaching implications, especially when the deep divides of society have been so painfully illuminated during the past few years before and during the pandemic. As Rogers (2020) noted in an article for Mint, “In a time of physical distancing, music has unified us to fight this virus better.”
Music therapy has also been evolving during the pandemic. It is well known that music can heal old wounds and help people work through their grief. Take for instance, Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s heart wrenching Piano Trio in G minor, written after the death of his daughter, Bedřiška; or Chopin’s heroic piano works dedicated to the plight of his homeland, Poland. Similarly, music therapy provides a creative outlet for individuals to express their thoughts and emotions. Carvajal’s (2020) content analysis concluded that as a result of lockdown and social distancing, virtual music therapy has only increased in popularity. Recently, Pfeifer (2021) discussed the creation of a meaning-oriented approach to music therapy based on psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy. Interestingly, Frankl himself wrote a few musical compositions; one even being featured in a television broadcast!
Public officials have also picked up on the ability of music to convey powerful messages. For instance, during the start of the pandemic, the government of Quebec (Canada) solicited musicians to help encourage the public to adhere to health measures (Cournoyer, 2020). Through their music, these musicians helped convey those messages quickly and effectively.
To musicians and the music industry, the pandemic was a real blow, at least initially. Rogers (2020) sadly concluded that we did not realize how much music meant to us until it was abruptly taken away. Concert halls were closed, shows were cancelled, singers and musicians were told to stay at home. But musicians have adapted and grown to the changing times, and despite the hardships have livestreamed concerts, made virtual appearances, and utilized new ways of making music. Following Jung’s powerful insight that one cannot reach heaven without first experiencing hell, I told musicians in a recent interview, “It’s just when you hit rock bottom that you find your strength and courage that you didn’t think existed within you” (Whissell, 2021).
Brenda Muller, Artistic director of the Ardeleana Chamber Music Society, moved orchestra rehearsals online, set up programs for seniors, and created hybrid coffee houses for the whole community.
Award winning singer-songwriter Francine Honey remembers how she felt helpless at the start of the pandemic. Yet by writing uplifting songs and starting a weekly livestream, she found a new purpose in life through connecting with others. “I saw that people who did not know each other and lived across the world, support each other and that warmed my heart and theirs. We also felt connected, and it gave me something to look forward to,” she said.
Honey, as well as flamenco flautist and guitar duo Lara Wong & Melón Jiménez, and film/TV producer and pianist Matt Weisberg, will be featured at the INPM’s upcoming 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference. This conference will be a rare opportunity for mental health professionals to learn how to harness the power of suffering into human flourishing based on cutting-edge research. As for the musicians, they will share some of their music about finding deep joy in suffering. Although we are still in the grips of a pandemic, music can provide us with all the hope that we need to keep moving forward.
For details of the conference, please visit www.meaning.ca/conference.
Tim Yu is a fourth-year undergrad at the University of Toronto and the student representative of the INPM. He is also a part time composer with more than 100 compositions.
Carvajal, M. A. (2020). Telehealth music therapy: Considerations and changes during the covid-19 crisis (Order No. 28024871). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2451147575).
Cournoyer, L. E. (2020). Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures: The use of music to communicate public health recommendations against the spread of COVID-19. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 111(4), 477-479. http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/s41997-020-00379-2
Dai, W.-S., Huang, S.-T., Xu, N., Chen, Q., & Cao, H. (2020). The effect of music therapy on pain, anxiety and depression in patients after coronary artery bypass grafting. J Cardiothorac Surg, 15, 81. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13019-020-01141-y
Global Council on Brain Health (2020). Music on Our Minds: The Rich Potential of Music to Promote Brain Health and Mental Well-Being. www. GlobalCouncilOnBrainHealth.org; DOI: https://doi.org/10.26419/pia.00103.001
Habibi, A., Cahn, B. R., Damasia, A., Damasia, H. (2016). Neural correlates of accelerate auditory processing in children engaged in music training. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2016.04.003
Harman. (2020, June 19). The power of music during a pandemic. https://www.harman.com/India/Pages/The-Power-of-Music-during-a-Pandemic–.aspx
Martínez-Castilla, P., Gutiérrez-Blasco, I.,M., Spitz, D. H., & Granot, R. (2021). The efficacy of music for emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown in spain: An analysis of personal and context-related variables. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 647837. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.647837
Pfeifer, E. (2021). Logotherapy, existential analysis, music therapy: Theory and practice of meaning-oriented music therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 72(1). Doi: 10.1016/j.aip.2020.101730
Rogers, D. (2020, November 20). How music has come to our rescue during the pandemic. Mint. https://www.livemint.com/news/business-of-life/how-music-has-come-to-our-rescue-during-the-pandemic-11605796478071.html
Sound United. (2021, March 17). 3 in 4 Americans say music has been key to improving their mental health during COVID, study finds. https://www.soundunited.com/news/3-in-4-americans-say-music-has-been-key-to-improving-their-mental-health-during-covid-study-finds
Vidas, D., Larwood, J. L., Nelson, N. L., & Dingle, G. A. (2021). Music listening as a strategy for managing COVID-19 stress in first-year university students. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 647065. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.647065
Whissell, J. (2021, June 4). Made you a mixtape Ep. 23 – Tim Yu. Made you a mixtape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41OB_ziqjNE