The soothing power of music has been well documented. Walk into any spa or massage room and expect to hear the gentle sounds of exotic instruments or new-age singers wafting your troubles away.
Now, more than ever, the global population is looking for ways to remain calm in the face of a crisis. Music could make a difference.
Glen Inanga, University College of the Cayman Islands’ assistant professor of arts and humanities, certainly believes so. It can play a role in helping Caymanians get through the stress of dealing with the coronavirus and the social restrictions that have come with it, he said.
Inanga, who heads the UCCI music programme, said that along with the traditional channels for accessing music, the pandemic has fostered new ones.
“What I’ve found really fascinating was how quickly many musicians have gone online to share their music,” Inanga said, referring to some recent well-publicised web-based performances, “from people who are relative unknowns to people who are quite famous”.
Artists such as Miley Cyrus, Chris Martin and Elton John have taken to livestreaming to bring their music, and sometimes their home studios and living rooms, to the digital world for free.
“It’s been a wonderful thing for people to stay connected and hear great music,” Inanga said. The live format is more potent than just putting on some recorded music, he added. “You’re hearing something made in the moment,” he said. “It speaks words that we can’t express.”
Studies have shown that music affects areas of the brain associated with mood and can be a therapeutic tool in treating depression and other conditions, by stimulating motor pathways. “The wonderful thing about music,” Inanga said, “is its ability to express emotion or speak to parts of the brain in a way that words just cannot do.”
Sometimes, he said, it can serve as an emotional reset button.
UCCI associate professor Monika Lawrence teaches dance composition and performance technique, among other things. The director of performing arts for the school, she said music is helping her cope with the changes brought on by social distancing and curfews.
While she typically is more interested in the rhythm of a song, these days she is paying more attention to the lyrics and suggests others may find this helpful.
“Find the music with the right message,” she said. “Music that gives you hope, with the message that there is life after the storm.”
She has found herself gravitating to more spiritual music, Lawrence added.
“Find songs that speak to the soul, that lift you up,” she said. “I think right now we almost have to go back to the old-time gospel music.”
She suggested such songs as ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’, ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.
Inanga, a concert pianist, leans more toward classical selections. One of his favourite pieces, he said, is the adagio from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. “It was a love letter Mahler wrote to his wife,” Inanga said. “It takes you on this journey of stillness and calm.”
On a more upbeat note, he said, he’s been enjoying some of the Jackson 5 music his daughter has recently been playing, including ‘Rockin’ Robin’.
Inanga said he plans to do some recording and uploading of his own in the near future, bringing more music to Cayman and beyond. He’s also involved in the government competition for a jingle related to the COVID-19 outbreak. He and other musicians are responding to some altered lyrics Sarah Dobbyn of the Sinclair Group wrote to the tune ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.
UCCI assistant professor Ivan Eubanks, head of the school’s media programmeme, will be stitching contributions together from different musicians around the island to come up with a video of the song which encourages people to stay at home. It’s a song everyone can chime in on, including the following lines:
‘Oh, I’m staying home tonight!
‘Oh, I’m saving lives tonight!’