The power of music to help us heal
Back in March 2020, no one could foresee the wave that was about to crash over us and turn our lives upside down for the next sixteen months. For professional musicians, the effect was often devastating as more or less overnight, all engagements were erased from our diaries. We were even more thankful then for our teaching commitments and the emerging technology that enabled us to continue with this element of our work at least, albeit online.
But music is more than an income or profession - it is a lifestyle, and a source of something that has proved even more valuable throughout the pandemic. Music is powerful, lifting our spirits, connecting us emotionally and reaching across even the divide of lockdown to help people to feel connected and fight isolation and loneliness.
Music is inbuilt into our DNA as human beings. Some of the earliest archeological investigations have found evidence of ancient civilisations forming bones and other things into simple flutes or instruments - the Neanderthal flute is thought to be the earliest example, dating some 50,000 years back into the history of humanity.
Music in the Bible
The Bible too speaks of this instinct to music - and it is woven throughout our origin stories and texts in the old testament. We see it in our instinct to sing and write new songs (Psalm 96:1), to play instruments (from Jubal, the Father of all who playdd - Genesis 4:21), to express emotions through music (2 Samuel 1:17-18), to worship God through music (Psalm 7:17 and SO many others!), mark significant moments through song (Exodus 15), and even to try to understand life’s most perplexing riddles (Psalm 49:4).
Music is also powerful psychologically. We know that music can help us in times of powerful emotions - to bring calm or help reduce agitation or anguish, but also to help us connect with and even express or share feelings that are difficult to articulate. There are also considerable benefits to our own joining in with the instinct to make music - learning or playing an instrument can reduce stress, help fight despair and low mood, and offer ways to meet new people and form new friendships. Singing also has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective things we can do to help in times of low mood, anxiety and depression. We see this in particular in choirs or groups, because of the way it brings people together - but also because the physicality of singing helps to regulate breathing in a way that drops the physiological level of stress hormones in your bloodstream and body. Struggling with that free-floating anxiety that will not go away? Put on a favourite song and either sing along or (even better!) hum! Sustaining the notes will naturally settle your breathing without you needing to focus on it - something many people find much easier than formal breathing exercises.
Music in lockdown
We saw music and that instinct to find solace in it in troubled times all through the pandemic. The lifeblood of a musician is the creative work of rehearsing, performing, composing and the myriad of other occupations that motivate and inspire us to stick with it all. But the pandemic pushed musicians into a new creativity, to switch to collaborating online – a big ask for those of us not used to tech-based activity. But think back to some of the posts you saw and found encouraging through that season. How many were moments of music? Choirs singing together across the divide, worship bands connected by the power of technology, artists and professional musicians offering free online concerts and a window into their own pandemic world.
So what now in this new season, as we try to move on and get used to the return to a life more like normal? Musicians are slowly becoming able to perform, and to return to their more normal rhythms as well - but is there a particularly powerful role music can play for us all in a moment where there is so much to process, so much we need to get our heads around if we are able to truly move on?
Aeterna is a group of nine professional musicians who, during the pandemic, decided to set about, answering the call to produce music together that would inspire hope, comfort and joy, as well as helping their followers to process the sadness, loss, and frustration of life under lockdown - and now the challenges of the so called ‘new normal’.
Aeterna’s musicians, all classically trained, are dispersed between the Isle of Wight and Manchester and between them play a comprehensive array of orchestral instruments – strings, winds, brass, percussion, and the keyboard. Crucially, it includes members with considerable compositional and tech abilities, the latter needed to bring together expertise spread over so many different locations and to combine the individual recordings and video into the finished tracks that are posted on the group’s YouTube channel.
Aeterna are also adept in the art of performance improvisation – learned for the most part in the crucible of Christian worship settings – all of which makes for a unique confluence of skills and influences as new tracks are pieced together. What they produce are a variety of musical moments, from fully improvised pieces painstakingly built-up part by part, to largely notated pieces with free improvisational elements. But each one does something vital: creating and shaping atmosphere. Turning a normal moment into something that can be special, set apart - even sacred, and create a space for pause, pondering or prayer.
Now that the world is slowly opening, Aeterna is exploring avenues for live performance with flesh-and-blood audiences, and creating those peace-filled moments to help people pray and process in venues across the country. They are especially focused on settings that afford the opportunity to bring emotional and spiritual consolation and healing, particularly so following a time of such immense pressure and stress for many, creating circumstances that many even now are only starting to process. Alongside their creative and recording activities, Aeterna’s members are confident that their adventure together will continue to develop and thrive well beyond the extraordinary times out of which it has been born.
If you want to explore the power of music to help you - whether that is to lift your spirits in a tough moment, to help you connect with difficult emotions or express what you are feeling, or to create a moment of pause and prayer, you can do this by choosing your own favourite tracks or worship songs - putting together play lists or taking advantage of the many already available on music streaming services like Spotify. Or why not check out some of Aeterna’s music videos which can be found at on their Youtube channel here.
Kate Middleton with Nick Evans-Pugh, 16/08/2021