“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Plato

We know from research that listening to music can decrease anxiety and human stress responses. In fact, music can play a role in important psychological functions such as identity construction, mood and emotion regulation, and social competence. Playing music or dancing to music can foster social connections.

My colleague, Dr Anita Collins, explains that when participants are wired to fMRI and PET scanners, and they listen to music, their brains light up like fireworks as they process the sound and understand elements like melody and rhythm.

While listening to music engages the brain, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a session at the gymnasium. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once, particularly the visual, auditory and motor cortices. Playing music also requires the use of fine motor skills which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. There is the combination of the linguistic and mathematical precision in which the left hemisphere of the brain is more involved, with the novel and creative content that the right hemisphere of the brain excels in. playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum which is the bridge between the two hemispheres. These messages can move across the brain more quickly and through diverse routes. From the perspective of memory, musicians also demonstrate effective memory functions such as storing and retrieving information.

Music in a time of COVID

In 2020 as we began to gain a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on people around the world, I remember watching the television news one evening and seeing Italian musicians playing and singing music from their balconies, no doubt, to provide a brief respite from the fear and pain that people were feeling.

Music at Lauriston has long been a part of our school’s culture and throughout our lockdowns, we have done our best to continue providing our girls with opportunities to listen to and make music and stay connected to the benefits that music has on our wellbeing.

I know that many girls have continued to make music and look for new ways of using digital technologies to assist them with their music.

Our concerts, soirees and Assembly performances are a particular highlight for me and I have been most saddened that we have not been able to run these events in their normal formats. However, I have been heartened by the creative ways in which we can see and listen to performances on Zoom, and when we were all at school, we all took pleasure in attending the Jazz cabaret, a concert at school and listening to performances at Assembly.

Staying connected with music

We are all keen to return to school and have the opportunity to play and perform music once again. I encourage all girls not to give up their music because zoom lessons and practice at home may not be as stimulating as engaging with teachers and peers. We know that one of the significant benefits of music making, whether this is through participation in an ensemble or choir, is the connections that one makes with peers. We all feel a strong sense of connection and belonging when we play or sing together. We can support each other and enjoy the sound that emanates from our music making.

We have an alumnae choir, The OLA Singers, and it has been a pleasure for me to hear them at our 120th picnic and a School Captains event this year. They enjoy being together and singing together, and it has been a pleasure to see their numbers grow. Not only does the choir continue their connections with their friends but they maintain their connection with Lauriston.

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and he is a favourite of mine, not only because he is a wonderful conductor but because he is a music educator. He writes that his role as conductor is to empower the musicians and when their eyes light up, he knows that he has been able to do so.

I believe we can extend this to those of us who listen to music as well. When we hear a piece of music our eyes should light up because we have made a connection with the emotions expressed. Music can help us to express our own unspoken emotions and it can help us to find direction and purpose.

Which, in these current times, is invaluable.

Susan Just
Principal, Lauriston Girls’ School