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Exploring Music as the Soul's Breath:

How Making Music Supports Our Well-being.

It's poetic to understand music as the breath of the spirit. The archives of human history are filled with personal reflections and testimonies to music's mystical connection to the human spirit and our emotional center.

How often have you heard someone say, "That song spoke to my soul," or felt goosebumps while listening to a symphony, shed tears, or leapt to your feet after a stunning finale? You don't have to be an experienced musician or a fine-tuned listener to experience the powerful and intrinsic connection between music and the soul. You don't have to see an MRI scan to know music affects our passions and stirs our emotions. All you need to do is feel it.

The artist, the scientist, and the philosopher can all agree. The soul breathes through the notes of a melody and carries along each chord. It crescendos with every exhale before it resolves with hope for the next inhale. Perhaps music is the oxygen of the soul, sustaining our emotional and mental well-being in a way that speaks to us.

But what about making music? If listening and experiencing music can have such a profound effect on us, how can making music impact our mental and emotional well-being?

In her article, "A Prescription for Music Lessons," Debra Shipman, Ph.D., RN suggests that playing an instrument in certain situations can provide "a peaceful retreat from the pressures of daily life." Similarly, research published in Medical Science Monitor found that music-making can significantly lower stress markers more substantially than simply resting. Reducing stress can also have a positive impact on stress-induced cortisol levels.

Perhaps the most recognizable impact music-making can have is on our mood. Music-making builds connections in the brain, and when we experience music, either listening or playing, the sections of our brain controlling emotion and memory are most active. Pfizer, in an article about "Why—and How—Music Moves Us," shares how music increases blood flow to the brain and the "Limbic System lights up when our ears perceive music while mood-altering chemicals in the brain like dopamine trigger sensations of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ESYO kept young musicians playing through the pause. First on a Zoom square and then in person on stage. During that time, many ESYO musicians shared how playing their instrument with ESYO helped them cope with the stress, anxiety, and loneliness caused by the pandemic. Music gave them a focal point to channel their thoughts and emotions. Music-making became a coping mechanism, a breath of fresh air that strengthened their resilience.

Research conducted at the University of Burgos in Spain during the pandemic looked at music as a factor associated with emotional self-regulation. The findings mirrored the experiences of many ESYO musicians. High percentages of people turned to music to help them feel happier, and music is a prevalent and effective coping mechanism. But music-making isn't passive. When musicians perform, they are not only feeling but expressing their emotions through music they enjoy. Music-making empowers artists, especially young ones, to navigate emotions from happiness to sadness, contentment to anger, togetherness to loneliness, and excitement to longing. When we provide a young person with a musical instrument and an opportunity to perform, we're not just giving them a toy. Instead, we're equipping them with a powerful tool and the necessary skills to grow and flourish emotionally and mentally. It's a chance for them to unleash their spirits and breathe deeply from their emotional core. As young people face "big feelings" and with the alarming increases in youth depression and anxiety, the importance of music-making couldn't be more clear.