Angelina Kalahari

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself." by Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Tag: beautiful

Why is music so important to us?

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Let us begin by investigating where music comes from.

We know that music predates the written word. Scientists believe that modern humans developed in Africa around 160,000 or so years ago. Around 50,000 years ago these humans began to disperse from Africa to all the corners of our planet.

Since all peoples of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have some form of music, scientists reckon that music must have been present in those original societies prior to their distribution around the world.

Social bonding for these early humans was crucial when they were more often the hunted rather than the hunter, when finding food was no mere stroll on the plains. It is believed that for them, music promoted a sense of being together in the same situation, facing the same problems. Music therefore became a communication system for the expression of emotion and the forging of group identities.

It is interesting to note that as soon as modern humans got to Europe, one of the first things they did was to leave not evidence of hunting, not evidence of a fight for survival, but a proper musical instrument. It is the earliest known musical instrument, a bone pipe, which dates back 40,000 years. It was found in Southern Germany and suggests that music was as significant to our ancestors as any other aspect of their lives. Of course, the oldest human instrument, in all likelihood, was probably the human voice.

Humans seem to be adapted specifically for music. Music activates our pleasure centres in ways similar to drugs, food and sex. The patterns and features of music are also perceived in special ways by our brains, distinct from ordinary sounds. This explains some of what we find attractive in things like the patterns of notes in an octave, musical harmony and complex rhythm.

Today if music is about anything it is about expressing and inducing emotion.

But let us first of all take a closer look at what music is. We know that it does not have one concrete meaning. That not all people will react similarly to a specific piece of music is obvious to anyone who loves music, but explaining the reasons for these differences is considered by music therapy researchers to be so difficult that the question is usually avoided entirely.

Music certainly means something different for different people. For example, to a musician, music is their life. They eat, breathe and live music. Music is their passion. For others it is a hobby, a pastime. Music is also a means to relaxation for some and a source of great excitement to others. For example, a party would be unimaginable without music.

So we know that music is at least sound because we can hear it, but you have probably also noticed that you are able to feel the sound of music in your own body. Perhaps in the past you have stood next to a large speaker. Or maybe you have felt the rumbling of heavy bass music through a table or a floor. These effects prove that sound is some kind of physical phenomenon. Sound must somehow be hitting you, letting you feel the beat. But we don’t see, or taste or smell anything when we feel sound. There is nothing but air. It stands to reason therefore that we must somehow be feeling the air when we feel sound.

A very simple but effective experiment might shed more light on how we feel the air. Gently place your fingers on your larynx, the tube through which air passes when we breathe or talk, or sing. Now, keep your fingers gently touching your larynx and sing any note for a few seconds. If you are not the singing type, you can also hum or talk instead of singing. You may have noticed that your larynx vibrated, but if you did not, you may need to sing a little louder.

The results of our experiment on sound showed that your larynx vibrated when you made a sound. This means your larynx caused the air to vibrate. We have proved therefore that sound is just vibrating air.

We now know these three things:

1. music is sound, 2. music is vibration and 3. we experience music through some form of physicality, either externally or internally.

This brings us to the next stage of our investigation. It might be very interesting to find out what music is for. Apparently the thought of music and humans fill biologists with trepidation. Its existence and variety in human cultures and the strong evidence that the brain comes preloaded with musical circuits, suggest that music is as much a product of human evolution as, say thumbs. But that raises the question of what music is for.

Darwin speculated that human music, like birdsong, attracts mates. Or, as he put it, prelinguistic human ancestors tried to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.

Studies in neuroscience and anthropology do suggest that indeed, music did help our human ancestors survive, particularly before language. For example, scientists suggest that language may have been built on the neural underpinnings of music.

It has now been proved that music can exist within the brain in the absence of language, a sign that the two evolved independently. Since language impairment does not wipe out musical ability, it stands to reason that musical ability must have a longer evolutionary history. And because music has grammar-like qualities, it might have served an even greater function.

With music hardwired in our brains, early humans had the neural foundation for the development of what most distinguishes us from other animals, symbolic thought and language.

But for most of us in our day-to-day lives, music has three major functions.

1. Music affects our moods and can make us feel, happy, sad, excited, calm or hopeful.

2. Music adds colour to our lives – without it, the world would be very plain.

3. And music is a creative outlet, a way we express ourselves when words are not enough.

That does not tell us, however, why music is important. But to say that music is important in our lives seems an understatement, given the fact that we spend billions on music each year.

We already know that music affect our moods. Many musicologists believe that music is a form of language or communication that directly accesses the emotions without the intermediation of words and rational thought. If that is true, and I guess we all suspect that it is, then we have to look at all the music around us and its impact on us. It’s everywhere. In our homes. On the street. In shops, restaurants and lifts. Even at the dentist. We cannot escape it.

One thing we do know is that our moods affect our bodies which in turn affect our health. But the use of music and sound to improve health is not a novel idea. Though little thought is given today as to the meaning or function of music within society, the civilizations of former times, were very conscious of the power of music. This was especially true of the pre-Christian era.

It has been easy for modern man, born and raised within a society infused with the philosophy of materialism to fall into the trap of regarding music as a non-essential and even peripheral aspect of human life. But both harmful and beneficial effects of music were recognized by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians.

From ancient China to Egypt, from India to the golden age of Greece, we find the same, the belief that there is something immensely fundamental about music. Something which, they believed, gave it the power to sublimely evolve or to utterly degrade the individual psyche, and thereby to make or break entire civilizations.

Plato and Cicero, like the ancient Chinese and Indians, believed that music profoundly affected the behaviour of entire societies. Particularly in China, the belief was held that the state should regulate the performance of music and prohibit certain types of music because of their potentially harmful effects.

These sentiments might be extreme, but perhaps it can lead us to think about what people living in modern industrialized nations have learned through painful experience, that many of the wonders of technology have deadly side effects. For example, Nuclear power was originally promoted as being a clean and safe alternative to burning coal and oil. And the ubiquitous plastics that promised to make our lives convenient are now recognized as a major hazard to our own and our planet’s health. Could it therefore be possible that music, which many of us take for granted as just background noise, could also have unrecognized effects, both harmful and beneficial.

Let us take a brief look at what happens to us when we listen to music. We all know that our heartbeat and breathing changes with different types of music, and that our eyes’ pupils dilate. Music also affects our skin temperature. But we lose music’s true power by not letting it through our bodies, and by restricting the pleasure and healing power of music, for example by sitting still in a classical concert when our body is aching to move with the rhythm of the music. The body has become so abstracted from music that we do not do the right things with our bodies and end up having not only problems with weight for example, but also with sex, energy and body dismorphia, rife, especially among younger people.

When we wilfully restrict our body’s natural movement in response to music, we’re damaging ourselves. We know this because the effects of music on the body can be measured. For example, measurements have been taken of the sensation of music in the human brain. Music can also significantly affect blood cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone, secreted by the adrenal glands. In certain circumstances, for example, competing as an athlete, elevated cortisol levels, easily obtained by playing loud, strident music, is desirable, but it is not usually a good thing. When cortisol and adrenal levels remain high with no outlet, it could cause stress, which could lead to high blood pressure, strokes and even heart attacks.

We should perhaps ask whether certain types of agitating music, such as rock or heavy metal may therefore induce excessive cortisol over extended periods of time which would become addictive, in a similar manner to the adrenal rush one gets from drinking coffee.

A French ear specialist confirmed that the same frequencies and musical styles of Baroque or classical composition that has proved beneficial for plants were also beneficial for humans. Especially those compositions rich in stringed instruments, such as violin, viola, cello and harp.

Numerous other studies from hospitals and medical schools have demonstrated the effects of music on human behaviour and physiology. For example, melodic intonation therapy, which involves speaking in a strongly musical manner, promotes recovery in stroke patients and helps those who stutter.

Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, specifically, has been shown to reduce total seizure activity in epileptic. And the music was effective even for epileptics who were comatose at the time.

Spatio temporal math reasoning ability in second graders are significantly enhanced by musical keyboard training.

Music has also been shown to help reduce post surgical stress and pain, to reduce symptoms of depression in home bound elderly people, and to aid children who are developmentally delayed by enhancing hand-eye coordination.

Further research has shown that regular vocal toning of only ten minutes a day, is equivalent to taking ten milligrams of valium.

We all know about the proven effects of Baroque instrumental music on our memory and its aid in learning new languages. That is because music and language are inextricably linked through the interconnections in our brains. Therefore, musical and linguistic intelligence are highly correlated.

We also know about the Mozart effect. Yes, it even has a name. It is the theory that listening to Mozart’s music is supposed to enhance deep rest and rejuvenation, intelligence and learning, and creativity and imagination. Claims have even been made that listening to Mozart’s music for fifteen minutes, would improve our IQ by eight to nine points.

And then there is the effect of music on the unborn baby. Although sound is greatly distorted because of the liquid and tissue surrounding the foetus, there is more than sufficient musical stimulation to be heard in the womb. Some studies suggest that prenatal exposure to music, assist infant development and therefore may one day serve to improve certain developmental delays in some children.

Ultimately, attentive and sensitive listening leads us to the music inside ourselves, to the magic in music.

Of course we now know that not only music is composed of vibrations. Supposedly solid matter and all forms of energy, including ourselves, are also composed of vibrations. The only difference between each of these phenomena is their frequency of vibration. Each merges into the other at a certain wavelength, which obviously means, when one gets down to it, that they are one and the same thing.

When this vibratory activity occurs at a frequency of around 600,000 billion waves per second, it becomes particularly interesting and accessible to us in everyday life, for this is the frequency at which our eyes have been designed to sense the vibrations and transmit them to our brains in the form of visual perception of light and colour and sound.

We now know that all matter is made of molecules. The molecules are made of atoms. The atoms are made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. The electrons, protons, and neutrons are made of quarks. The quarks are made of sub-quarks. And the sub-quarks are made of vibrating strings of energy. In fact, scientists have proved that everything is in a state of vibration, by demonstrating that atoms and sub-atomic particles are themselves composed of nothing else but energy in a state of vibration and oscillation. And one of the experiments’ conclusions proved that atoms are harmonic resonators, just like humans. This resonance principle effectively disintegrates the barriers between physics and music. The principle is rapidly establishing the concept that not only the atom, but all sub-atomic particles, can be theoretically considered as being nodes of resonance. In other words, some scientists are beginning to regard the atom as a kind of tiny musical note.

Scientists have also demonstrated that the structure of the atom contains ratios and numbers which resemble to a degree impossible to account for by chance, the harmonic principles of music. The intervals and harmonics of music, mirroring the geometry of the heavens, may also be present in some mysterious way not only within the physical form of man, but also within the patterns of his psychology.

Data thus far suggests that the entire universe may then be based upon vibration, that vibration may be the fundamental nature of each and every energy form currently known to science. The vibrations could be likened to playing a note on a guitar string, then hit a fret and pluck it again. You get different notes. When these incredibly tiny strings vibrate in different ways, different forms of matter appear. 

This opens up a possibility more incredible than we could have imagined. The potential of a grand unified field theory. For example let us note the interesting fact that ultrasonic sound vibrating a glass rod causes the rod to emanate both heat and light, a demonstrable example of sound energy becoming the energies of both heat and light.

And even more astonishing, sound vibration could therefore mean that the entire Universe may be nothing more than a song.

Can healing emotional pain also heal physical pain?

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In a very interesting conversation with a good friend this week, we discussed her epiphany question – can healing emotional pain also heal physical pain? With her permission, I would like to explore that a little here today.

Very few of us traverse this life without some kind of emotional pain, from a boyfriend or girlfriend dumping us, or some kind of betrayal, or hurt, etc. We all carry our scars safely tucked away in our bodies. Many of us even pretend that we’re okay for years and years, and then suddenly, something happens or a light bulb goes on, as it did for my friend.

In her case, she had had an accident in which she broke her wrist at the same time as having the new, raw wounds of the ending of a very difficult relationship inflicted upon her. As a professional pianist, she thought her career would be over. It nearly was. She was unable to play the piano for many years. Gradually, her wrist healed but it was never quite the same and she has endured continuing pain there all this time. Luckily, she could save her career. But the emotional pain of the failed relationship continued to live in her body, as well. Lying in bed one night holding her painful wrist, the thought suddenly appeared that the two might be related.

I’m so grateful that she shared her epiphany with me. Emotional pain is such a deeply disturbing thing because there are no tablets we can take for it.

What struck me is the idea that our emotions and our memories live in the cells of our bodies. We’ve all heard or read about someone who’d had an organ transplant, only to start behaving differently than they had before their operation, or craving food they had never eaten before. When they investigated, they found that the person whose organ had been donated, had those character traits, or they liked those foods. We hear and read of people who are able to shrink cancerous tumours by talking to their bodies, thanking their bodies for keeping them alive.

But how many of us ever thank our bodies? We tend to criticize it, instead, wishing we were thinner, bigger, taller, shorter, had bigger/smaller boobs, or bigger/smaller other bits if we’re a guy, a different colour, straight/curly/more hair, etc. We cut bits off when we have operations and never give a second thought to thanking the part that was removed for having been a part of us until it became ill.

So, I feel my friend has a very good point, and we wondered what a possible perfect blue print for our bodies might mean? When we take the courage to heal our emotional pain, when we’re able to banish it from our bodies with love, perhaps our physical pain can be healed, too.

Years ago, I read an amazing book, called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom – Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing in which the Author, Christiane Northrup, MD, talks about our bodies as our allies and how important it is to thank your body for carrying you through life in the best way that it can.

I’ll let you into a little secret – I start every day off by looking into my mirror and telling myself that I’m awesome, I’m enough, I’m a goddess and that I love myself. Then I give myself a hug before I start writing my happiness journal that used to be my gratitude journal. But now, I may also thank my body for helping me to be here for another day!

Confessions of a vocal coach

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I am lucky enough to work wearing several different hats. When I wear my vocal coach hat, I work with wonderful voices and help to develop those voices. It never ceases to amaze me what the human vocal instrument is capable of, and I love seeing my students’ voices develop.

As a vocal coach, guiding voices, especially young voices, involve not only teaching the correct techniques for optimum vocal expression, but picking the right repertoire. This is important to build the voice’s strength and flexibility, and requires great sensitivity to the voice you’re working with.

A number of my students started studying with me when they were ten years old. Then, they were cute little kids with squeaky voices to match their little bodies. At that time, they were often shy with soft, tiny voices. Most had never had a singing lesson before, and often it was their mothers who felt that singing would bring them out of themselves and imbue them with confidence. Their mothers were not wrong. Singing is great for building confidence and good posture.

Today, aged fifteen, these same students are gorgeous young men and women with beautiful voices, and confident singers and performers.  Their great communication skills that will stand them in good stead as they traverse their working lives and beyond. At the moment, they all seem to be especially stressed by too much work and preparations for their GCSE mock exams in January, to be followed soon after by the real thing. So, for now, we’re focusing on breathing lower and deeper in their bodies which will help them to relax.

What they eventually want to do with their voice training, will dictate the length and intensity of their studies. Obviously, if the goal is to become a professional singer, the training will be very different from someone who is studying to pass exams in order to improve their CV for a new school or University, or someone who is studying voice for improved confidence, or as a hobby. But hopefully, every student who ever studied with me will feel that they received the very best voice education I could give them. And I’m lucky, since it seems my students really do feel that way, judging by the lovely cards, letters and presents I have received from them over the years.

I’ve kept all their cards and letters in a big brown envelope, and on those days when life seems harder than others, or when life throws me a curve ball, I take out their writings and re-read them. It never fails to make my heart sing!

Telling people we love them is so important

View from Table Mountain

My family live in several countries around the world, which I guess is quite normal for families these days. It doesn’t stop me loving them the same as I have always done.

One of my sisters celebrated her birthday recently. She lives in Cape Town and leads a crazy busy life, but I managed to get her on the other end of a phone over the weekend. It’s always wonderful to catch up with her and to hear news of the rest of the family. She told me all about how great her birthday was, the lovely gifts she’d received, the dinner, and she told me how she went up Table Mountain via cable car with her whole family. They stayed there until eight o’clock in the evening, taking pictures of the setting sun. She said that was the best gift of all – having all her family with her to enjoy the views with her. She promised to send me photos, and I fell in love with the one accompanying this blog, which shows part of the cable car and the views of Cape Town below, the sea and Robben Island in the distance.

At the end of our conversation, I told my sister that I loved her very much, not only as my sister but also as my friend. She said my words created a cozy warmth around her heart.

Her reaction reminded me once again how important it is that we tell the people in our lives that we love them. Often we assume they know how we feel about them, and I’m sure they do, but it’s so important to say it, especially when they’re still around to hear it. Life is so short.

In the end, isn’t it what we all want – to be accepted and loved unconditionally for who are, warts and all?

What does the beautiful autumn mean to you?

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I saw this beautiful autumn tree on one of my recent walks in the park near my home, and just had to take a picture of it. It looks as though the tree has spent all summer absorbing all the colours of the sun, only to give it back as a thank you just before it sheds its leaves for winter.

 

I love all seasons, but Autumn is special – it’s filled with a kind of excitement for me – perhaps because there’s a crispness in the air and a very definite change in nature, or maybe it’s because it’s getting to the end of the year. This is the time of the year when I like to look back to see how many of my dreams came true. l also take a look forward to the next year, and to set myself some new dreams. It’s a game I play with myself every year. Most years I’m blown away by how many things I’d achieved and how many wonderful people I’d met.

 

I’m curious to know if other people do this, too?

 

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