Music Heals, And Ottawa’s Musicians Are Finding Ways To Prescribe Its Medicine

Erin Flynn Community

In these unprecedented times — that phrase is definitely overused right now, but fitting all the same — people are nurturing new practices like the uptick in people making sourdough or starting home exercise routines. Whatever inspirations or opportunities this crisis presents, music continues to play an important role in keeping us connected and motivated. Whether it’s the soundtrack to your kitchen adventures or the tunes to jog to, music is uplifting, music is comforting and music is everywhere. In talking to my friends and family, everyone is making playlists and organizing their record collections. We’re finding solace and inspiration in music.

The music itself hasn’t stopped. Famous artists and local artists alike have hosted scores of online performances using the technology around us including Zoom, Facebook and Instagram Live as the medium. Ottawa’s indie DIY space House of Common has started a weekly streamed dance party “Together Apart” featuring different DJs, 10 p.m. on Saturday nights via Facebook Live. There’s also “Community Spread,” another Facebook offering put together by the folks behind TimeKode, in addition to the Ottawa Music Live Streams group, a resource for staying current on area musicians putting on streaming events, and DJ Magnificent keeping Flossy Friday’s going via Twitch.

TimeKode Community Spread Event PosterTimeKode | Community Spread Event

None of this is new, we’ve been using music to connect, to share stories and to cover distances since we could beat a drum or sing a song. There’s tons of research on music’s beneficial impact on the brain. There are loads of pop culture offerings like the well-known This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J Levitin or How Music Works by David Byrne. These books explore our deep connection and instinctive relationship to music.

There are a couple key messages from science about our need for music — our social nature forces us to seek out connection and music is one of those connective tissues. Just look at all those people singing from balconies and rooftops in Italy, Iraq and India during their respective lockdowns.

Music truly makes us feel better. Recent research, by neuroscientist Jason Keeler and colleagues in 2015, on music has shown that oxytocin (the “love” hormone) increases when we sing. And a 2017 study by Yuuki Ooishi and colleagues showed that oxytocin increases after simply listening to music.

Faced with social isolation and much uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, many people have experienced feelings of increased anxiety and depression. Loneliness can be a significant threat to physical and mental health. Music plays a role in alleviating these feelings. Remi Chiu, a musicologist at Loyola University, says “Music is proving to be a true antidote to fear.” Music used as therapy can significantly reduce anxiety, depression and sometimes the underlying symptoms of disease.

Music is comforting and healing. Now go listen to something great.

Erin Flynn is the station manager at CHUO 89.1 FM. She’s also the owner and co-founder of the Quyon Church recording studio and vegan kitchen.