Let the music play

Music gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the Mind,

flight to the Imagination and life to everything Plato.

It’s been a tremendously difficult year for most people, with just the first early signs of a happier end in sight. But if there was one thing that kept a privileged few going throughout 2020, it was a guitar from Spain. Or a bandurria, lute or cajon, naturally.

Manuel Rodriguez MR JR Exotic Classical Guitar, made in Spain

When we got tired of binge-watching our favourite shows, we could hold our beloved instrument on our expanding waistlines and escape from the turmoil and uncertainty that have besieged the world for the last twelve months. 

Photo by Mark Timberlake on Unsplash

The allure of music is that it is innately comforting and familiar to us, which is why many of us dusted off our instruments during lockdown (or invested in a new one). Online music lessons, such as guitar classes and tutorials, skyrocketed. 

Not everyone was baking banana bread: there was a boom in online guitar lessons

Music gives the player a feeling of control that is in short supply in the outside world during a time of crisis, as well as a sense of purpose. Furthermore, playing or listening to music releases the bonding hormone serotonin and the pleasure hormone oxytocin. Seeking agreeable sensations is of course primordial behaviour, and therefore nothing new: when the plague swept through England in the 16th century, Henry VIII chose his organ player as one of the members of his ‘support bubble’ of five when he was obliged to quarantine in his palace.

He had a bad reputation in most matters, but Henry VIII nailed lockdown

But, what is it about the power of music that transcends every culture and social group on Earth? Why did ‘Clap for Carers’ resonate with people so profoundly that it quickly swept across the globe? Well, we know that music predates speech and that our distant ancestors probably used singing and clapping to communicate with one another as they sat round the first fires they built some two million years ago. 

People all over the world clap for carers in March 2020

Anthropologists also believe that music has played a fundamental role in human evolution, functioning as a social glue and motivating people to identify with the group, which for much of human history has been essential for survival. Perhaps this is why, with concert halls and karaoke bars closed during lockdown, the streets of cities around the world were turned into makeshift amphitheatres: people brought their communities together by performing improvised recitals from their balconies. 

Italians come together to make music in March 2020

In times like this, it’s worth remembering the tremendous healing power of music too, as well as its efficacy in fighting fear. In Sparta for example, the leaders of the city persuaded the poet and musician Thaletus to sing hymns to console the populace and calm their fears when a deadly plague struck the city in the 7th century BC. And during the carnage of WWI and WWII, doctors used music for therapeutic purposes, to help heal the injured soldiers and distract them from the pain.  The benefits of music therapy in the treatment of many cognitive disorders have also been well-known for hundreds of years.

A group of vocalists sing to injured soldiers in a hospital ward in 1944

So, as the year is drawing to a close, we at GFS would like to recognize everyone who raised our spirits in 2020, by playing or singing on their balconies, at their front doors, or in streets and squares across the globe: Thank you for the music.

And for those who have never held an instrument in their hands, maybe now is the time to face the music. Just a word of advice, though: at GFS we would caution against taking up the violin until the pandemic is well and truly behind us and everyone is safely back in their offices.