It’s Always There: Music and Mental Health

When I started the Art is Power project, I was inspired by the impact that the arts had on students in my classroom, so I focused primarily on the arts in education; however, the deeper I went into my research, the more benefits I found in other areas. I experienced art as social justice in Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina. I saw first hand how the arts can be used to rebuild broken communities in Brazil, and I saw how powerful the arts were in concentration camps in The Czech Republic and in Germany for spiritual resistance. I then looked for examples closer to home, and realized that music helps my grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, reconnect the dots in her life.

The last time I visited her, I had no intention of interviewing her for Art is Power, but that changed when I realized what was happening as I sat with her for a simple conversation. She didn’t recognize me, and thought I was a random person paying her a visit. It wasn’t until she pulled out her harmonica and started playing her favorite song, Gypsy Song, that she remembered who I was. For about five minutes, the memories returned, but it didn’t last. I asked her to play me another song, which she happily did, and again the memories resurfaced. Our conversation went on like this for about twenty minutes, and then I pulled out my camera and started filming. I asked her if music is important and she answered,

“I was a little girl when I started playing the harmonica. I love music. Any kind of music, I love it. Music is life. Music is life, music is harmony, music is everything you can have.”

The harmony that she describes goes beyond the actual sound. It seems that the music harmonized and calmed her mental state. Her memories were ignited and held in place by the music, so maybe she was being literal when she explained that music is life. This was a powerful moment for me and I was thankful that, even for a few minutes, music helped me to have my grandmother back.