It's always fascinating listening to world class musicians talk about their childhoods. Ed Sheeran's recent speech where he credits music for getting rid of his stutter (he learned the lyrics to dozens of rap songs off by heart), sent out a powerful message about the healing qualities of music and the many incredible, creative ways children use it to grow into emotionally healthy, happy, and sometimes phenomenally successful adults.
Looking closer to home, I began to notice how my children, and those I knew were using music in truly unique ways to cope with life's obstacles and the growing pains of childhood. Parents too, tap into music almost instinctively when they're trying to find solutions to their children's problems.
There is a quote from German poet Heinrich Heine where he said: 'where words leave off, music begins'. I happened to hear it in the same week I was told that whilst my daughter was intelligent, her very weak working memory would profoundly impact her academic journey. I also happened to see the film 'The King's Speech' on television two days later. Seeing Australian speech and language therapist, Lionel Logue help King George VI with his stammer by making him sing his speech stayed with me. He didn't stammer when he sang. And then it struck me. I set about turning the times tables my daughter needed to learn into songs, to help her commit them to memory. The results in only a short period of time were astounding.
My sister and 11 year old nephew have also been pioneering different ways to use music. During exam week, she played 'Eye of the Tiger' every morning when he was getting ready for school to go in to his exams. He loved it and said how invigorated and championed he felt. Such a simple act, using only one song, but hugely powerful. Without spelling it out or having a direct conversation which can sometimes be difficult with young children, this one ritual taught my nephew how to channel his anxiety into determination and courage, setting down a pattern which will serve him well throughout his life.
For a long time music was considered to have no evolutionary benefit to us as a species, but as we are starting to discover, its benefits are almost limitless.
One of the most exciting recent discoveries stems from growing research suggesting that music originated from parents who were trying to communicate with their children, most likely to signal to their children that their needs were being met whilst allowing them to perform other tasks. Music was essentially created by parents to satisfy children's needs.
Other research tells us that we probably sang before we spoke in full sentences. It's no surprise then, that singing in groups has such a lasting impact on our wellbeing. Three major benefits of choral singing have now been discovered: this kind of singing creates a shared emotional experience, increases social bonding and improves cognitive functions too.
Music has also been proven to affect pain. A March 2017 study revealed that music reduces pain in spine surgery patients. The tremendous healing power of music doesn't stop there. Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, an academic studying the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal says "We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health-care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics."
Leonid Perlovsky, a physics and cognition researcher and visiting scholar at Harvard University believes music's purpose is to sooth feelings of emotional discomfort, a discomfort children are all too familiar with as they grow to realise they may not fit into accepted stereotypes and ideals. A phenomenon Ed Sheeran describes in detail in his speech and addresses by celebrating "weirdness", or individuality as I like to call it. Perlovsky says of music:
"Music is an evolutionary adaptation, one that helps us navigate a world rife with contradictions. This is the universal purpose of music.... While language splits the world into detailed, distinct pieces, music unifies the world into a whole."
As a mother, psychologist and music lover, I can't help but feel Perlovsky is right. Music's ability to help us make sense of the world, to help children find a comfortable compass with which to navigate adolescence are profound truths we can't ignore. My daughter inspired the creation of the Zeamu music label because I wanted to offer her, and other children a powerful medium to help them find their voices. The Zeamus sing to make sense of the world, and they empower children to feel heroic and invincible. These are just some of the amazing gifts music offers us.