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Posted: Oct 5, 2010 09:06


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By Rich Simpson

Music through the ages has been regarded as having supernatural power to affect the human soul and psyche. Sound tracks are used in movies to prompt our emotions to feel beauty, joy or impending doom. It’s truly amazing just how much music can affect our emotions and thoughts.

Try going back to the time in your life when you were completely swept away by music. Music seemed to reach deep inside you, assuring you, instilling confidence and reinforcing your ideas about yourself. Most would conclude that the period from early adolescence into our 20s was the time in our lives when music had the most power to make us feel. If true, why shouldn’t we look into ways to utilize this unseen but powerful force to help our kids when they need it? Maybe it’s because when most parents and professionals think of music and young people, what first comes to mind is all the damage that results when you combine the two.

It is phenomenal how completely some young people get caught up in the ideas and lifestyles of the current peer music culture.

Many kids who are sucked into the world of skulls, blood and vampires walk around with their ears hooked up to their iPods playing a continuous succession of Death Metal bands like Slayer, Rob Zombie and Cannibal Corpse. Some of this music is so unpleasant to the uninitiated, that the FBI and other police agencies have been known to broadcast this music in order to break down the resistance of people in certain stand-off situations.

It’s common to meet upper middle class 15 year old boys who speak with black gangster-style accents. Many have spent hundreds of hours or more with their heads wired to the sounds of rappers glorifying the rude and crude lifestyle of the urban, black pseudo-gangster. This round-the-clock immersion reinforces a rap fantasy life which these kids play out in the suburbs with real life props like baggy clothes, drugs, “bitches” and sometimes even firearms. Some of the luckier ones caught up in this end up in good programs.

There are countless examples of how music reinforces an array of the bad ideas packaged and presented to young people, perpetuating an ever evolving peer culture projected by the modern media. In addition to music which inspires suburban gangsters and the death metal heads, there is also music to support the delusions of young punks, skaters, head bangers and ravers, to name just a few.

Acknowledging music as a powerful force in the lives of young people begs the question of how we can do more to reverse the music polarity from negative to positive. Empirical science has tended to overlook treatment modalities labeled as “right brain.” Methods more difficult to quantify and analyze have often been considered quackery and unscientific even when shown to be beneficial.

Not long ago, medical science scoffed at the notion of treating disease with diet. In the last two decades, meditation has been gaining acceptance as a practice for treating anxiety and depression. More recently, “New Age” ambient music has been used as a meditation enhancer to induce brain wave changes in the mind. Daniel Pink, author of Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, contends the future belongs to those who look for holistic solutions using intuition and imagination. The left-brain analytical thinking that has dominated since the industrial age has started to lose its grip, Pink contends.

Music as a deliberate mode of therapy for “at risk” students in programs has not been widely utilized, possibly because it could be regarded as a hard to measure “right-brain” approach. Or it hasn’t been fully developed into enough programs for the benefits to World Music in all its forms is wide open for discovery and offers an array of intelligent, healthy music directions. A concentrated focus on a foreign genre can lead students toward broadening their view of the world. With a huge selection of innovative music coming from Africa, South America, Europe and Asia, emerging styles often fuse different genres of music together, resulting in refreshing and intelligent new sounds. An exploration of World Music rarely fails to arouse the curiosity of students and can lead toward reading new books, watching movies, looking at maps and great conversation.

Another genre generating enthusiasm is Electro or Nuevo Tango, combining classical forms and instruments of tango with techno and jazz. It’s hip, sophisticated music which goes great with sipping yerba mate tea from a gourd. The rich history of Tango and the tumultuous political history of Argentina in the last century can be fascinating and intriguing especially when originating from a music focus which can be traced as events unfolded.

The wonderful thing about introducing fresh new genres of music to students is that it teaches them that listening to music intelligently can lead to a new way at looking at the world, sparking intellectual curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning about people from different cultures and histories. This process can lead students toward a healthier perspective of themselves and their place in the world which contributes to real growth and self-discovery.

About the Author:
Rich Simpson was a professional musician in his younger years. He is the director of Pathways Abroad, Coeur d’Alene, ID. See or contact him at or 208-676-1275. Look for his next article about how music recording studios can be used in numerous creative ways to help young adults develop.

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