During lockdown, many of us have discovered the power of music in our lives. It has undoubtedly inspired us, helped to keep our spirits high, provided an escape from the real world; it has helped us sleep better, boosted our mental performance and even combated depression.

Music has inspired many great acts of solidarity and charity throughout 2020. Our digital connectivity has served as a tool in building new communities that enable us to play in an orchestra, sing in a choir, learn a new instrument or listen to our favourite musicians’ latest recordings from their home studios.

Welsh mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins performed weekly live lockdown performances via her Facebook channel. This led to a live stream singalong for care home residents and their families. Chris Martin played acoustic versions of Coldplay’s most popular songs in his home studio as part of One World: Together at Home, a series of livestream performances in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and Global Citizen to raise money for coronavirus relief.

According to Spotify, some of our favourite songs that we’ve been listening to since March include: MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming, and Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. However, the most popular lockdown song has been Britney Spears’ Toxic. Perhaps an indication that we may all need to take a closer look at our relationships!

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Finding a box of records kept in the loftFinding a box of records kept in the loft

Finding a box of records in the loft

I have enjoyed sharing YouTube live performances of songs that I love with friends. SoundCloud has kept us open to newly uploaded music, to listening to what people have been creating, as well as sharing our own creations. I have also enjoyed watching extraordinary clips from The Old Grey Whistle Test from the 1970s and 80s. Later Live with Jools Holland on BBC Two has also been entertaining, featuring famous musicians sharing their greatest influences and talking about what they have been creating in their studios since March.

Swiss psychoanalyst Karl Jung maintained that: “Music should be an essential part of every analysis.” Back in 1944, music therapy was introduced into the curriculum at Michigan State University. In 1950 the first professional music therapy organisation was formed. Oliver Sachs, professor in neurology, described music as a tonic. In his work with patients he discovered that “music can move us to tears….it can provide access even when no medication can to movement, to speech, to life… Patients from all walks of life respond positively to all types of music, helping to unlock memories, to communicate where words fail them.”

Music enables us to express ourselves, build self-confidence and foster social connectedness.

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Who was producer on the third Spandau Ballet album again?

Whether painting your front door or doing embroidery, music can boost mental performance, cognitive abilities and improve motivation. I wouldn’t consider getting on my exercise bike without playing some upbeat R‘n’B before I begin. The music encourages a positive state of mind, increases my performance, levels of endurance and pedalling power!

In his book Flow, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi explores the psychology of optimal experiences – by mentally focusing and giving something our total attention, we become so completely absorbed in it, thus evoking the feeling of flow. Music can lead us into ‘the zone’ evoking a state of uplift and unself-consciousness.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: The Oxford Companion to MusicThe Oxford Companion to Music

The Oxford Companion to Music

The word music derives from ancient Greek, ‘the Muses’ - the nine daughters of Zeus, goddesses who governed the arts. Music has helped all types of artists to create. Many writers have admitted that they need a little piano music when getting into the zone and listening to Debussy or Einaudi helps them to pick up the narrative thread where they left off and keep their writing moving forward. Alexander McQueen used to listen to Michael Nyman’s The Piano film soundtrack when making clothes. They say that it’s something to do with both parts of the brain being stimulated at the same time. French author Anais Nin believed that music was a “stimulant of the highest order”. Like oxygen, the arrangement of musical notes has been shown to increase levels of oxytocin, serotonin and the release of more dopamine within the brain.

Shamans have been creating meditative or trancelike music using repetitive drumming, ringing of bells and shaking of rattles to drive disease from the body, depression from the mind and despair from the soul. In such ancient traditions, music is a path to a heightened consciousness.

The sacred music of religion has a ritualised role in collective worship. Prayer chants sung over and over again can lead us to more numinous states of mind so that a merging with the divine may be experienced. Devotional songs date back thousands of years. Clearly in Sufism, the music and dance build up and are crucial in leading to a rhapsodic state resulting in a mystical state of consciousness.

Over the years many of us have built a personal collection of music and still own many CDs. In April, my daughter discovered my old pink iPod from the noughties that lay discarded in a drawer. Fascinated to hear what was on it, she took it away and listened to every song. She was quite impressed to hear tracks from such a hugely diverse playlist featuring The Chemical Brothers and Arvo Part. There were some very strange tunes taken from Kate Bush’s Aerial album to the upbeat Chic’s C’est Chic album. She even listened to some musical theatre like Don’t Rain On My Parade, introducing her to the extraordinary singing voice of Barbra Streisand.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Cassettes and a cassette playerCassettes and a cassette player

Cassettes - you could sometimes hear the song on the other side playing backwards between songs

I also unearthed a box from my loft filled with a selection of old cassettes and a big old tote bag filled with vinyl that I had refused to throw out in my twenties. My daughter has a record player, and I bought a cassette player to listen to some incredible albums from Jimi Hendrix's The Singles Album to Soul to Soul’s Volume II 1990: A New Decade. Reminiscing positively revived old feelings and memories, reconnecting me to who I was and what I was going through at the time. Certain albums help us through various stages in our lives and by piecing them all together we can create the soundtrack to our lives.

One of my most memorable musical experiences was back in the late 1980s when I attended a Whitney Houston concert. A tall figure in a satin green dress appeared on stage. By the time she had sung a few songs, the audience seemed utterly mesmerised. Given her gospel background, her huge voice was a powerhouse. Towards the end of the concert, the expansive power and purity of it boomed as she held her notes, the sheer potency and clarity of the sound reverberated and resonated, coursing through every cell in my body. I didn’t expect it. It shook me up. It felt like something exceptional was being expressed through her. I left the concert on a high, feeling exhilarated yet peaceful.

Music unites us and has the power to transform our moods. Music fills empty spaces. The more I think about it the more I realise that music is a constant companion. A song like Sister Sledge’s Lost in Music will give me pleasure. A piano nocturne by Debussy will help me to relax and let go of the day’s stresses. Other songs like Bob Dylan’s Talkin’ New York from 1962 will get me thinking; and a song like Timbuk 3’s The Future’s So Bright from 1986 will make me giggle.

George Eliot maintained that she would have no other mortal wants as long as she “could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at www.radioverulam.com/smallcitylife.