award-winning documentarian: radio + music + photography
A few weeks back the NYTimes Sunday ran the piece, "Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing", by Robert J. Zatorre.
When it comes to placing value on a song, or raising money on Kickstarter to make my debut album DELVE, which is proving to be one of the most vulnerable experiences of my life thus far, I, like Zatorre, ponder why "this thingless “thing” — at its core, a mere sequence of sounds — hold such potentially enormous intrinsic value?"
I can say for myself that music moves me in a way that seems almost otherworldly. I am taken, like the wave of breathing deeply into a birth contraction. It is primal and powerful and unforgettable, although not painful whatsoever, unless the music is associated with heartbreak which can be excruciating.
In the 80's and 90's I would stay up late into the night of my room, especially after a breakup or some on-going teenage drama, to tape songs off of the FM radio. I'd have a blank tape, listen to the DJ's choices, hoping to come upon a tearjerker, then try my damnest to slam the record button just when I heard either the introduction of a wanted song or within the first few beats before lyrics began, already knowing which one would come. Once I would capture the tunes, I played them over and over again until the tape inside eventually became unleashed all over the floor. Broken, kaput, but set in my neural pathways, apparently, for the rest of my life. Ah yes, the days of waiting for the sonic experience and savoring them when the songs came. I still remember every lyric to every song I ever taped and memorized from that era.
Now, as a woman, a mother, a wife, and singer/songwriter, I am particularly passionate about writing and singing songs that are honest, easy on the nerves, and connected to my personal, yet universal experiences. All of my songs have, at some points more than others, a heightened sense of emotion which, for humans, engage "the reward system deep in their brains — activating subcortical nuclei known to be important in reward, motivation and emotion". This neurological research seems to support the science of creating a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Whether a hormonal teenager or the woman that I am today, the memorable“peak emotional moments” of a song still evoke body tingles, a sense of elation and an almost intangible connection to the force that makes life possible. It is "that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage" which "causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain." In these moments of experiencing and making music, I am uniquely alive, breathing, grounded and moved.
After a long day, without much sleep the night before, exhausted, ready for bed but have a few more loads of laundry to clean, emails to send, work to do, and even a great partner to help in the long list of tasks after the kids are asleep, even then, if I turn on a tune that gets me, apparently "dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex"...
This explains precisely why, every single time, I sing the same song over and over again or listen to the same song with mind-boggling repetition, it rarely feels old to me. Even after the 508th time, or so, my son recently said, "Mom! Are you crying, again?" to which I said, proudly, "Indeed!" Turns out I'm not crazy after all! Ok, perhaps just a tad.