What's So Great About Music? Part One

I called this "part one" because I fully intend to write more on the subject of why music is so great and what it changes. I don't know how many parts I'll write, so I won't presume I do. But suffice it to say; This is not the end of it.

So, what's so great about music? Other than what each of us says about the ways it touches us personally, gives us a better quality of life, and the good and bad and always poignant memories it reaches for when we hear it... what's so great about music? For instance, what does science say? What do the smart people think?

I was giving thought to ways I can point out the benefits of music and an article popped up about the benefits of music to patients of Alzheimer's. My Pops, Bob Circle, suffered from Alzheimer's and my Mom, Lilias Circle, suffered from some other form of dementia that left her unable to speak and only loosely aware of what was going on around her.

My dad's first wife, Barbara Fisher-Circle died of breast cancer after a prolonged battle that saw my dad being forced to bring home large sums of cash each week to pay for the home health care. When I asked him how he got through it, he responded without hesitation:


He knew Mozart's story; how he suffered from alcoholism and was emotionally scarred by his father, his constant poverty and the fact that he was not understood by his contemporaries and in some cases was the victim of political conniving to destroy any chances he had at recognition. And especially that he died painfully at a fairly young age of what historians now believe was trichinosis, a sickness brought on by parasites in pork, a favorite food of Amadeus. My dad found it amazing that with such a difficult life, the young composer could write such uplifting and beautiful music, and saw this as a sign of the power of music.

My mom, a pianist, concert alto, violist, producer, and music writer, obviously was in love with music. When her health deteriorated after my dad's passing, she eventually decided to move back into assisted living after a stint in her own apartment. When it got to where she couldn't speak and showed signs of dementia, the nurses would wheel her recliner to the nurses' station and play classical music for her all day. She would just sit quietly, smiling. When I last saw her, two days after my wedding to Megan Corse and less than two weeks before her passing, she managed to speak a very labored sentence to Megan while I was away for a minute.

I reference these same stories and more in my book. I'm always looking for evidence of the importance of music beyond our philosophical ideals and spiritual feelings about it. I have tons of little factoids about music education, the malleable brain, and a fair amount of personal non-scientific evidence through experiences I've had. They all point why music is so great.

Here are two excerpts from a Chicago Tribune article about Alzheimer's and music:

Research has suggested benefits from music therapy for people with autism, depression, schizophrenia, brain injuries and cancer. Newborns in intensive care have been found to gain weight faster when exposed to music.

For people recovering from a stroke, the rhythm of music can help them regain their gait. Those with aphasia, who’ve lost the ability to speak, sometimes can sing familiar songs, and some can eventually be taught to transition from singing to talking.

Such therapy, known as melodic intonation treatment, was used to help Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recover her speech after she was shot in the head.

Researchers suspect this may be particularly useful for patients with damage to the left side of the brain, because music emphasizes use of the right side of the brain, providing a potential alternate route to develop new nerve pathways.

When I posted a link to this article on social media, I received a fair amount of positive responses and additives from my network. My friend and once musical collaborator, Mike Osuji from Nigeria responded, "In Igbo land where I come from music is used to calm the nerves of a crying baby and to wake up a slumbering Spirit." That's profound; both that you can calm a crying baby and the idea of waking slumbering spirits.

As I reach more deeply into the evidence of why music is so great, I also welcome your experiences and any resource material you've found regarding the subject. In the meantime, keep playing, keep listening, and thanks for reading.

Peace and music,





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