Music: The Power to Move and Make Meaning

Music has the unique ability to ‘move’ us in more ways than one.

It speaks to our childish energies, our tribal instincts, our desire for the physical, our moral compass and our raw emotions.

I’ve always admired song writers and musicians. They have this wonderful ability to put into words our deepest thoughts and feelings, much like poets, except it’s that awesome combination of music and words that has so much more

The rhythm, the melody, the lyrics all seamlessly synthesised to produce a plethora of reactions from us.

Growing up I was exposed to an eclectic assortment of music; The BEE GEEs, John Denver, Elvis Priestley, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Slim Dusty (I know!), The Beatles, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac.

My parents loved the constant rhythm of music drifting through our house and it was quite literally the soundtrack of my childhood.

This continued into my teens, except now my brothers and I were in control. With our CD players busting out a compilation of sounds ranging from grunge group ‘Pearl Jam’ to 90’s folk queen ‘Jewel’.

SO naturally I’ll listen to anything these day. Even Justin Beiber gets a bit of air time in our car (the boys love it!….can I claim that?)

Like the mishmash of unique individual we are, each style of music and individual song has it’s own personality or identity. So depending on our mood or situation, it can have varying effects.dancing-festival

There is no denying music’s immense power.

It can set you free, wake you up, speak to your soul, provoke thought and retrieve memories from the deep. I love this!

And that feeing you get when you come across a new song or artist that sets your heart soaring. With a kind of pseudo religious fevour, you can’t wait to spread the ‘good word’.

We know music can create awareness or a kind of ‘cultural consciousness’, inspire social change and move people to action, both good and bad.

We just have to recall the music from the 60′ & 70’s anit-war movement.

‘Work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems have bound together families, groups, or whole nations’.

So wherein lies its power? How can it ‘speak’ to us in so many ways, to people of all ages and from all cultures?

And how can it help shape meaning in our lives?

Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and musicologists (yes there is such a thing….who knew!) have provided several suggestions for how and why music has evolved over the span of human history (many of which you can read about here).

‘When a person experiences thrills while listening to music, the same pleasure centers of the brain are activated as if they were eating chocolate, having sex or taking cocaine’ (Blood & Zatorre, 2001)


Of course it’s always interesting to read studies which reveal the negative effects associated with listening to different types of music (commonly concerning heavy metal and rap, which are linked with higher rates of delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse etc).

‘The type of music adolescents listen to can be a predictor of their behavior’ (Hendricks, et aI., 1999).

And yet, music can be nothing more than a means of pure escapism, like reading is for some.

‘We all hear the music we like as something special, as something that defies the mundane, takes us “out of ourselves,” puts us somewhere else.’ (Firth. S, p.275. 1996 Performing Rites. On the Value of Popular Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Don McLean’s song commonly known as ‘Starry Starry A photo by Gabriel Gurrola.’ (although it’s proper title is ‘Vincent’ – Starry Starry Night is the first line) is a tune I can recall hearing in the background of my childhood years.

It’s one of those warmly familiar songs and despite its melancholy tone, offers escape from the everyday when heard sporadically on the car radio.

Until recently I never really ‘heard’ the song or found much meaning in the words, simply because I never bothered to understand them, ironically.

The song is about the artist Vincent Van Gough, his unique paintings and the unappreciated talent that he was, during his own lifetime.

Now I understand

What you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how

Perhaps they’ll listen now

McLean’s admiration and yet sympathy for the artist is articulated beautifully in his words and music.

The song’s success back in 1972 demonstrates a shared appreciation for the power and value music can offer us in making and finding meaning.

And we could all add plenty of other songs by a range of artists over the years who have essentially created music for meaning.

Clearly music is powerful in messing with us in many ways, to varying degrees.

Maybe we are all in some ways, ‘Nun nun naya…..a slave to the music’ as 90’s funcksters ‘Twenty 4 Seven’ told us.

Most of us for some time have already been harnessing this power on a daily basis in the form of a ‘Play-list’ on our very ‘mobile’ devices. For fitness, for fun, for free time and even for philosophy.

And it works. We run faster, party harder, have more fun and feel more fulfilled, contemplative and focused with music around

Who doesn’t?

It is a form of therapy for the everyday. The alternate drug that keeps us all moving, grooving and finding meaning in more ways than one.

Music to my ears. Perhaps we’ll listen now.

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Author: rechelleroz

Hi, I'm Rechelle. Mum to three, energetic (is there any other kind) boys and married to a Pole (he's Polish). We live on the beautiful and aptly named, Sunshine Coast in Australia. We moved here 4 years ago, after a stint in the UK. I'm a teacher, love reading and writing in my spare time and hitting the beach. My secret passion is home-grown philosophy, not the university kind. I love thinking about 'stuff' and pondering our lot in life. I'm also slightly addicted to bakery treats (now there's a whole other blog!)

1 thought on “Music: The Power to Move and Make Meaning”

  1. I think this is your best blog yet Shelley.
    It is a very perceptive and insightful look at the impact music has had on all mankind since the beginning of time.
    In the modern world we are just beginning to understand its true power and influence on our general wellbeing.
    You nailed it!

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