Listening From The Heart
By Riya Mukherjee
Music. How does it heal us? How does it contribute to our wellbeing? And, ultimately, to happiness? It was an interesting question: to try and decode such an intrinsic personal experience that is yet so universal. What happens to us when we listen to music? Depending on the genre preferred, for some, it is nostalgia, for others, it is discovery. While some derive peace from it, others energy. For some listeners, it’s a deeply personal, intimate experience, for others, a social tool for bonding, friendship, and sharing. Some listeners like soft melodies, others prefer fast-paced pieces that make them groove to a beat. There are those who keep going back to the familiar, and others who are constantly exploring new sounds. Listening to music seems to be a universe unto itself and provides experiences so varied that it was intriguing to try and think of what could possibly tie all these experiential points together. After all, can we rightfully say that a person moving to EDM beats in a club is having even a remotely similar experience to the person alone in a room, listening to love songs through earphones?
What then is the binding factor? Having spent over two decades working with music in some capacity or the other, I had no pat answer. I have seen people cry to music, and laugh with it. Go to sleep with it, and wake up with it. Curl up on a sofa or get up and dance…. But through these completely disparate experiences, the one common thread seemed to be an internal transformation of emotions, a shifting of energies. Sometimes it is catharsis, at others, escape. Sometimes it helped to lighten the mood, and at other moments, it deepened a feeling instead. For some listeners, the rootedness of local voices, familiar languages, rhythm, and cadence were essential to enjoying music. For others, the exotic sounds from other lands, unfamiliar instruments, new languages, unknown voices seemed to thrill them.
So what exactly was going on here? I had been asked to write an article about music and happiness. And beyond saying that yes, it’s a fact, music seems to make people happy, I had arrived at no other insight. Until, possibly on a day when my mobile phone had beeped itself into oblivion with digital noise – also known as notifications, when the construction crew next door acquired a pneumatic drill, when the TV was on loud in my mother’s room, when the household help was screaming at each other and I couldn’t even hear myself think, that was possibly the day the penny dropped. Music is the act of listening. An oasis of silence, which we choose to populate only with sounds that are in harmony with each other, in tune and pleasant to the ear. Especially nowadays when most music listening is on personal devices and via headphones or earphones, music listening has become that one time in our day when we actively chose to block out the noise, go silent, and truly listen. Listening. Genuinely listening. Perhaps the most transformative act we can perform for our selves and our inner-scape.
“BEYOND IT ALL, I HAVE COME TO REALISE THAT THE ACT OF ABSORPTION, CONCENTRATION AND GENUINE NON-JUDGEMENTAL LISTENING IS POSSIBLY WHAT CONTRIBUTES SO TREMENDOUSLY TO MUSIC CREATING HAPPINESS AND HARMONY.”Riya Mukherjee, Radio & Music consultant
If one thinks about it, no profession is complete without listening. A judge must hear the evidence. A dancer must hear the beats. A teacher must be able to hear the students. And as for doctors? No doctor can discharge his duties without truly listening. Listening to the patient, listening to the systems, listening to the body, listening to the heart. The true power of listening is what comes shining through when one listens to music. Choosing to shut out all other distractions, cacophony, noise, interruptions, and focusing on one set of sounds. They could be hypnotic beats in a club or soothing gentle melodies of a bhajan. It doesn’t matter. When we listen to and hum along with or move to the groove of the music, we are in a highly focussed state I feel; almost meditative in nature, especially when done with genuine attention and concentration.
Rhythms, beats, tones, pitch… these are proven scientific influences on our mind and body. Countless experiments have been done to show the effect of music on people, plants and animals. It’s ultimately about resonance and connections. Our nerve endings respond, our psyche responds, possibly even our hormones. But beyond it all, I have come to realize that the act of absorption, concentration and genuine non-judgemental listening is possibly what contributes so tremendously to music creating happiness and harmony. Now if only we could hear each other as well with this kind of true listening, perhaps the world would be a better place.
The author is a radio & music consultant, and former national creative head of Radio Mirchi.