In my most recent post, I related how I was pointed in the direction of this topic and I gave a bit of personal history which illustrated why music’s transformational quality rings true for me. Now I’d like to broaden support for the concept by showing what others have said and experienced.

Historical Perspectives

The Moody Blues set the table for this discussion in their album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and their lead-off song Procession. They hearken back to the origin of the universe itself and the eventual arrival of the human race with musical sounds meant to convey these events. A singer first proclaims “Desolation!” Then “Creation!” We then hear a drumbeat on skins, followed by “Communication” in a more melodic voice. We hear voices of primitive humans and that morphs into sitars, then a tune with flutes, then a harpsichord in perhaps the Renaissance. Ominously, a churchy organ comes in, then more pleasant strings. Suddenly, we hear modern electric guitar and the full Moody Blues band. They move into the song The Story in Your Eyes. One line there says, “And the sound we make together is the music to the story in your eyes.”

Throughout our history we’ve been feeling the effects of rhythms and vibrating instruments. Their sounds enter our ear drums, sending signals to our brains that make us feel pleasure or a wide array of other emotions. We are lifted to our feet and we communicate our feelings in dance or vocal response.

Plato expressed in the third or fourth century B.C.E. how music can move us.

Long before, Indian classical music was being chanted for the purpose of inspiring merger of the individual with the Creator and Sustainer of all life. The website states in its article History of Indian Classical Music, “The origin of Indian classical music dates back to the Vedic times and reference of the concept of Nadabrahma is found during this time. Chants and a system of musical notes along with rhythmic cycles are found in vedic scriptures dated 6,000 years ago. Ancient text Samveda, containing organized music, was structured to melodic themes. Samaveda is called the veda of music and is considered to have provided the foundation for Indian music.” The ancient form developed through the 11th century C.E. It continued to evolve and still does.

European classical music began in the 17th century with the Baroque era. The impact on listeners in the
West was profound, as is shown in these ecstatic comments:

Moving on to the 20th century, we see how music transformed people in ways quite different from earlier forms. The PBS program History Detectives produced a piece on 20th century music. One statement stands out to me the most in our context.

“The most important influence on 20th century music? African Americans and the musical culture they brought to this country – developed within the bonds of slavery.

‘Even before the 20th century began, blues music was evolving across the country out of the traditional African slave spirituals, work calls and chants. Of all the developing genres, the blues would be the most far-reaching, with its influence felt in everything from jazz to rock, country music to rhythm and blues, and classical music.

‘That said, jazz’s influence on the world music scene would be nothing short of transformational. Jazz saw its early development in the African American communities all throughout the South – with rhythms reflecting the diversity of cultural influences from West Africa to the West Indies, from ragtime to the blues.”

I marvel at the change blues brings to the player and the listener. I won’t say the effect is the same for everyone on any given song, but what amazes me is that most often the blues are rooted in pain and yet their expression uplifts us in spirit.

Music and the Brain

For reasons I don’t fully understand, music and the brain partner beautifully for our well-being. In an article by Ted Gioia on, he shows us how the right hemisphere of the brain relates to music. The following excerpt sums it up for me.

“For our purposes here, it’s more important to focus on the two very different ways our competing hemispheres have of changing the world. For the left hemisphere, we change the world by manipulating and controlling it. For the right hemisphere, we go out into the larger environment and transform both ourselves and our world in a way that feels more like merging or transcending. That is precisely the hero’s journey described in this book, and songs are better tools for that transformation than a hammer or a gun.

‘In other words, musicians really do have a higher potential, perhaps even a heroic one. A song can be much more than a song. Maybe it ought to be.”

Science can shine a light on how seemingly magical phenomena works in our lives. And so it is.