Just the other day, I watched a video by the recent 2009 World Science Festival called Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus. It included musical performances and a panel discussion about music’s interaction with the brain and our emotions. The panel included several well-known neuroscientists and musical artist extraordinaire, Bobby McFerrin.
There were several fascinating scientific points throughout, but three statements were of particular interest to me:
“Everyone at some place inside them, have a sincere desire to participate, to become part of something. Which is a very strong need, I think, in all of us to be part of some kind of community…” — Bobby McFerrin
“One of music’s primordial functions is to breed or foster social cohesion and really get people’s brains aligned so that they can form a larger community than themselves.” — Dr. Jamshed Bharucha
“Music speaks a particular kind of emotional language.” — Professor Lawrence Parson
Music, community, and emotions; three words that resonated throughout the discussion and the very same words that resonated in my mind as I reflected on the experiences I witnessed at the Griffin Home-a residential treatment center, part of the Friends of Youth (FOY) program here in Seattle, WA.
It all started a couple of weeks ago when my fellow cohort, Eduardo Mendonça was invited to visit the facility and share his musical experiences with the youth. After learning about his work with Music National Service, FOY invited Amos, Aaron, and I to attend as well.
Upon arriving to the Griffin Home, we set up our instruments and introduced ourselves. Half of the boys spoke only Spanish, so I translated as we went around the room learning their names and their favorite musical styles.
Eduardo and I sang “One Note Samba,” Aaron performed some fanciful drum breaks, and Amos rocked the house with his masterful rhythmic rhymes. The boys were shy at first, but in no time they felt comfortable and eager to participate. Everyone was on their feet and groovin’ to the beat…no translations needed there! From corridos and techno, to rap and reggaeton, everyone was engaged in music making.
As our morning came to a close we allowed some room for Q&A but instead, these youngsters graced us with musical performances! A young man lifted his voice in song as gratitude to God’s everlasting love. Another young boy timidly approached a snare drum and after some encouragement, played a punta rhythm, a popular musical style among the garifuna peoples of Central America.
Twenty adolescent boys ranging in ages from 12-18 coming from life paths far more challenging and traumatizing then most of us will ever experience in our lifetime. Twenty boys engaged in a communal musical experience. Their bright faces illuminated the room and their smiles stretched from ear to ear. It was a peace they hadn’t felt in a long time.
Indeed the words of these scholars ring true. Everyone has the sincere desire to participate and everyone has the innate need to be a part of a larger community, a musical community, and for these boys, it was no different.
They simply needed an invitation to release their creative spirit.
They needed to reboot the energy and drive that runs dry when one is weary and tired from everyday struggles.
They simply needed to speak the emotional language of music.