“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” – Maya Angelou.
Music matters. A recent study showed how music acts as a drug, releasing dopamine and creating a literal high from your ears down to your toes. Another bit of research revealed that music has the power to elevate moods and invoke feelings of happiness.
When life goes awry, it seems trite to break into song, but the science is there. Not only does it make you happy through dopamine, music decreases stress by lowering cortisol levels in the body. And even when life goes beyond stressful and into downright agonizing territory, music can literally alleviate pain.
I suspect this is all true, mostly from witnessing music’s powerful impacts against the inspiring backdrop of the great white north. Yes, I’ve noticed something really cool when Alaskans gather to experience music. It means more. Much more.
Alaska is many things. Amazing things, wondrous things, incredible things. Sadly, to a lot of people, it’s none of those things. To many, this place is vast, cold, dark, lonely, and frightening. When I initially came north, the first winter almost killed me. Luckily, I got by. Good friends, hot yoga, and these crazy things called Vitamin D supplements all helped considerably. But music was my salvation.
Orchestras picked me up when I was down and bar rock reminded me of good times, both those past and yet to come. Pop and electronica got me dancing despite dour days of gray. Metal motivated motion when winter’s icy breath blew. Folk fostered smiles and smirks of recognition for the shared struggles that all humans face.
Music matters more in Alaska because of the hardships herein. While the bitterness bolsters character, music’s effects are all the sweeter for having come through the other side of life’s sour tangs. As such, I believe in music and its power.
Thankfully, others believe music has the power to fundamentally improve Alaska’s communities, as well as individuals. One incredible program is Dancing with the Spirit, it’s a lot like a traveling educational road show. Except they go to remote communities to spread music’s gifts, places where there are no roads leading in or out.
Another organization, Alaska Music Project, or AMP, has auspicious goals despite being fairly young. They aim to set up recording studios in six rural communities to spread musical and production abilities “to Alaskans that need it most.” It seems they’re building momentum too.
These programs, and any educators who spread music to Alaskans in need, inspire me.
The first time I saw the impact of musical education in the far north was on a beach in Wales, Alaska. A tiny dude of eight or nine was sitting on a big piece of driftwood, strumming an acoustic guitar and humming to himself. I stopped about twenty feet away, sat down on the powdery sand, and just listened for a bit until he stopped.
When he noticed me, I thanked him for the music. He smiled shyly and we got to talking. The guitar and knowledge on how to play it were imparted from his teacher. You could tell how fond he was of the teacher by how reverently he spoke. And the guitar was treated with tender care, lovingly placed in its hard leather case before getting hauled back to town.
That moment was special. We both appreciated the music and what it did for us both. But it never would have happened without a teacher willing to make an investment in a child’s future.
I don’t know that kid’s name (I never asked and he never said), but I bet his future will be a lot better for having music in it. And this is why music matters: it has power. I believe in that power.
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono.