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ON MUSIC & EMPATHY

Tonight is music night, (yay!!) the eve on which we typically warm up the amps and rock the night away. So today I celebrate Music!


Maya Angelou famously said, "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." An evocative image that still rings true.


There are two things that are understood, no matter the language - Music and Smiles. A few years back, the concept of "Playing for Change" emerged, in which named artists recorded favorite songs with other players around the world. Naturally, the concept was a success. We're wired for sound.


Music syncs deep within our souls. Current research even suggests that musical therapy can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for those with Alzheimer’s.

Here's an even wilder notion: your level of empathy directly ties into your appreciation of music. As I researched music for this essay, I came across a fascinating study. Here's what I read.


"People with higher empathy differ from others in the way their brains process music, according to a study by researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and UCLA.”

"Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.”


From the article: Higher Empathy People Process Music Differently in Their Brains


What's fascinating to read is that music is triggering our neurological reward system - without the negative effects of addiction. It's activating the social circuity within our brains. Which is why people can bond so easily over music.


“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence,” Wallmark (one of the study’s authors) said, “that music processing may piggyback upon cognitive mechanisms that originally evolved to facilitate social interaction.”


Before we could utilize language, we most likely learned how to tap out a rhythm. Early humans would hear the birds sing and the rhythm inherent in rain and sea. Music is everywhere!


One of my dearest friends and I first bonded over music. Dancing at one party, slipping away from the chatter to listen to a duo play at a bar, then attending a Ukulele Ladies 80's Singalong (and yes, it was as fun as it sounds!)


I even play music in dreams, though it took some time for me to be able to manipulate an instrument there (physical stuff is so tricky in a nonphysical environment) but I could Always Sing.


So here's a shoutout to music and some of my favorite moments:


"Row, Row, Row Your Boat," a lovely metaphysical tune. Life IS but a dream!


Skipping rope with friends and singing songs.


My first album at age six was the Rolling Stones.


My lifelong love of John Lennon, the Beatles and Motown.


Dancing wildly to music from childhood on. Shake it up, Baby!


Picking up a guitar at age fifteen and beginning the arduous journey of learning how to play.


Finding my voice in my twenties and discovering How to sing.


Years and years of playing old favorites and coming across new music that thrills.


Being invited onstage with Mary Wilson playing with the Funk Brothers and even gasp singing a line into the microphone (Thanks, Ms. Wilson, for the honor!). Click the link to watch!


And my weekly celebration with my beloved husband, who shares the same taste in songs and the same passion to play.


Here's to music! I'm so grateful to live in a world where Music Plays On.

- Chiron O'Keefe

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