Music has been with us for centuries. It is present in varying forms across all cultures and countries. It constantly surrounds us: we wake up and hear the birds sing, we hear music when shopping in the supermarket, and we hear it on TV adverts strategically chosen to catch our attention. Sometimes referred to as the language of emotion, music is an abstract stimulus, which is intricately linked to our lives, entangled with memories from childhood to old age, whether good or bad.
Evidence has shown that our brains perceive music as a 'reward'. Listening to our favourite songs results in a rise in dopamine levels, just as some antidepressant medications aim to do. This reward occurs in the parts of the brain that are thought to be linked to the regulation of physiological responses to emotional stimuli.
The therapeutic affects of music are currently being researched. It is well known that it can be successful in stimulating memories in dementia. There is some evidence to suggest it can be used to improve well-being in anxiety and depression. I once found myself 'prescribing a few songs' to a depressed patient who mentioned he shared the love of melancholy songs. Over the next few visits, he gradually seemed less withdrawn and there was certainly more eye contact. This may well have been the strengthening of the doctor patient relationship rather than the therapeutic affects of music but either way we were able to bring into the consultation something he was passionate about and give him some focus.
Last week saw the attack on the Manchester arena, the second attack on a music venue. These attacks affect me on a more personal level. As a mother the thought of losing your child is unbearable. I attended my first concert just as these children did at 13 and my children no doubt soon will also want to share this experience. As a music lover I have stood in front of the stage just as those killed in the Bataclan had. As a Muslim I fear the backlash on minority communities when this murderer 'represents' Muslims just as much as the white extremist murderer in Portland 'represents' the white community.
In these difficult times, we need unity in our society to get through the pain of this event and to show we won't cower to terrorism. I see this sense of community in concerts - people passing water if it's too hot, people helping others get farther out of the crowd if they're feeling squashed. Unlike football matches where you have people on opposing sides, in a music concert, regardless of your faith, race or social background you are all there for the same purpose: to watch a group of people perform their gift, to hear lyrics that are linked to emotions and memories which form the foundations of us as individuals, and to feel an auditory stimulus convert to physical one as the music penetrates our skin and flows through our veins.
Unity is what we have seen in Manchester since the tragedy - everyone has come together as one regardless of his or her colour or religious preferences. 'Don't Look Back in Anger' was sung after the minute's silence, the song strengthening the social connection, the lyrics transforming a negative experience into positive words, which for some will steer them towards the path of healing.
At this point in time, the only hope I have of things improving are through music. Some politicians and the media play their part in encouraging hate but musicians can reach their audience on a deeper level and they have the power to change things. Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, during their first concert since the Manchester attack said it perfectly: "We don't care where you're from, we don't care what religion you are, we don't care what colour you are.... the biggest response we can make to the people who want to hate and who want to destroy is to give them back love and joy and rock and roll."