Thursday, January 21, 2021

How Books and Music Touch Our Lives

 There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry
Emily Dickinson

'Tis you that are the music, not your song...
Amy Lowell

Where would our world be without music and books? I don't ask this question lightly, for both have been a formative part of my life since my childhood. I believe I have already shared my first experience with walking into a public library with my mother to get my very first library card. The smell of the books that day was an intoxicating scent to me. To think that I could come here to this beautiful place and check out books that would, indeed, take me to lands far away was an exciting prospect to my young heart. To this day, the smell of a book gives me joy and the feel of a book in my hands brings an excitement of what adventures lay in its pages. I especially enjoy reading books in a series because the characters become my "friends" and I typically re-read those books over and over again. 

Likewise, music is a part of all that is dear to me. I am told that, as a little baby, I loved to clap and sing along with songs and nursery rhymes that my sisters would sing and recite with me. Later, in elementary school, I auditioned to sing in the school choir and began taking violin lessons offered in our school system. This later led to my playing in school orchestras and bands and even directing the choir at my church while still in high school. It's quite telling that I remember part of an essay I wrote in elementary school about how one would describe rhythm. I said that, "even in the swinging of an umbrella there is rhythm." The teacher seemed impressed that I recognized rhythm in ways that went beyond typical music venues. I have carried music with me throughout my life...into adulthood, into my education, into my teaching and into my serving of God. Now, in retirement, I continue to make time in my life for music as I learn a new instrument (flute) and direct the handbell choir at my church. The Mr. and I have listening sessions with music from different time periods which I really enjoy. And, yes, I sometimes swing an umbrella on my arm and think about the rhythms that I am creating. I can truly say, along with Amy Lowell, that "'tis me that is the music." Where would I be without it? 

Reading and music are not just good for me, though. They are good for all of us. According to reading improves brain connectivity, increases vocabulary and comprehension and increases the ability to empathize to just name a few benefits. Music also touches our souls and emotions in my opinion. In fact, I have to be careful about the music I choose to listen to as it can really affect my mood. Sometimes, I have to change the music if a piece is particularly somber or melancholy as it can bring me to tears. Here is what says about music and its effect on us:

"Music exerts a powerful influence on human beings. It can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue, improve your response to pain, and help you work out more effectively."Apr 1, 2020 (

As a retiree, I look for things that keep my mind sharp and reading and music are both great avenues for this task. According to Philips Lifeline reading benefits seniors in many ways such as enhancing memory, sharpening decision making skills, delaying onset of Alzheimers and dementia, reducing stress and promoting better sleep. These benefits make me want to grab a book right now! Luckily this is not an issue as I typically read every single day. 

Likewise, music is healthful for seniors, as well. The Vault reports that, according to Johns Hopkins, music is medicine for the mind and that listening to or playing music is like a total brain workout. So, as a senior, I definitely want to keep music in my life! 

How does reading books and listening to and/or playing music fit into your life? Be sure to let me know in the comments. 

The thing is; you don't have to read Moby Dick or be a concert violinist in order to enjoy reading and music. My preferred reading is typically light in nature and incorporates gentle fiction and cats if possible. Mysteries are a huge favorite but nothing gory for me thank you. Likewise, I have always enjoyed an eclectic mix of music from disco to classical and much in between. Although I usually don't go in for country, I was always a huge fan of The Judds back in the day. I still have some of their CD's. (Yes, CD's. I know....old school). 

Over the years, I have realized that many times things can happen in life that may make us feel "less than" in some way when it comes to reading or making music. Life experiences are not always rosy. 

For instance, as a musician, I have struggled over the years with not being "good enough" and suffering from crippling stage fright when performing. I am working hard, in retirement, to simply enjoy music for myself and not be controlled by it or the expectations of others. Majoring in music gave me lots of pleasure, but also opened the door for lots of criticism. It simply comes with the territory because music involves auditions and juried performances and the ever present "attitudes" that are present in the arts. Although many musicians handle this with no problem, my highly sensitive personality got a bit bruised by it all and it has literally taken me years to understand that all of the angst of music really had very little to do with me personally. This realization had allowed me to set my inner musician free and to come to a peaceful understanding and acceptance of some of the pain that was caused by the competition aspect of it all. Something as wonderful and beneficial as music should not cause painful emotions and I am happy to count myself among those who call themselves "musicians." 

Another example of a less than rosy experience occurred with reading when I was in the first grade. I was sick a lot that year and missed school frequently. Those were the "Dick and Jane" years of sitting in little chairs in a semi-circle and reading aloud for the teacher. My teacher that year thought it a good idea to rank the students in the semi-circle from poorest reader to best reader. When I was able to be in school I would be at the top chair in the group. But, after missing for several days, my teacher thought it would be good to place me in the very last seat, have all the children read aloud and, "see how long it takes Debbie to rise to the top seat." While I don't wish to sit in judgement of my teacher, I can't believe that this activity was good for ANY of us small and impressionable children. And for me....well...not good at all. This goes a long way in explaining why I threw up many mornings in first grade and couldn't go to school. Yeah, not a rosy experience at all. But, surprisingly, this never stopped me from loving reading just as the competition and attitudes I experienced in music groups never stopped me from loving music. I wonder why? 

Have you heard of "Multiple Intelligences?"  These intelligences were coined by Howard Gardner and speak to the different ways that people are born to learn and interact with the world. Gardner's multiple intelligences theory has been hotly debated over the years but I, along with many other educators, feel it has merit. It is generally believed that everyone has all of the intelligences but that two or three tend to dominate. Thus, a person relies on the dominant intelligences for their learning and interaction in the world. It was no great surprise to me that my two dominant intelligences are verbal/linguistic and musical. These intelligences "call to me" and help me to define, understand, learn and live in the world. They always have and, I'm sure, they always will-even in the face of less than rosy experiences like the ones I shared above. 

So, I ask again.  How do music and books touch your life?  I surely know how important they are in my life. 

Until Next Time,

*Not a sponsored post. 


Karen said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Music and books are important to me too. One of my favorite activities is curling up with a good book. I also enjoy the smell of real books, as you said. Music is the background in my life so often, unless I'm depressed or upset. At those times music makes me sad, so I take a break from it. Generally speaking though, I love to play quiet, classical music in the early morning when I'm reading my Bible and devotional books. Music motivated me when I recently painted most of the interior of my house...60's music...and it really kept me moving along in the process. You are fortunate to have musical talent Debbie. Mastering instruments is a real art.

Sharon said...

What a lovely post, Debbie, as you share your experiences and your love of music and books. Just like you, I can look back into my life even as a child and see a thread of pursuits that still linger with me today. Sometimes they have taken different forms, but they have always been there. Rhythm for me started with dance as a young child, and it has permeated my life. I can really identify as you talk about sensing the rhythm in a swinging umbrella. Words have always been important too. We have in common the joy of reading. The photo at the top of your blog post is beautiful! It is such a creative vignette that captures the essence of your blog post.

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thank you, Karen. I'm so happy that you enjoyed the post and could identify with many aspects of the post. 60's music is awesome! We like that, too. I hope things are going well as you work on your present home and look forward to future excitement with a new home!

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thanks, Sharon. And thanks for noticing the vignette in the picture. I was very pleased with how that picture turned out! Did you notice the bookmark you gave me? I just love it! (And, of course, Cassie and Garden do as well)

Iris said...

Almost always reading something, I enjoy light reading for the most part. However finding things that are light but not just like the 50 last books I tried is difficult.

As far as music!!! WOW, music has always been near & dear to my heart. I played the organ in church many years ago, then the guitar. And I LOVED to sing. Participated in many outdoor Christian events "back in the day". Sadly I can't sing anymore. Chemo (for breast cancer) did a job on my voice and as much as I love to sing and try, I open my mouth and it just won't come out right. But I can still worship with music.

My mother had Alzheimer's and remembered almost nothing but if an old hymn was played she could sing every word. It is truly powerful.

Would love to hear your handbells and other music endeavors.
Grace & Peace, Iris

Debbie Styles Life said...

Thank you, Iris, for commenting. I was happy to learn how music has influenced your life, and the lives of others through you. I'm sorry that the chemo hurt your voice but I know that God still loves to hear you sing! And, I would too. I have read that before, that those with Alzheimers react to music and remember songs when they can't remember anything else. Isn't that amazing?! Truly, music is an amazing thing.