Music makes my world go ’round

03/22/2014 7:00 PM

03/22/2014 7:02 PM

Hello music, my old friend.

Like a lot of journalists, I end up listening to way too much NPR in the car or using driving time to make phone calls. So it was soothing the other evening to pop “Sketches of Spain” by Miles Davis into the CD player. The songs sounded like the vivid tangerine and hot pink sunset I was driving into, and I could feel my heart rate slow.

Credit for that exceptional 60 minutes goes to Lenexa sound engineer Don Miller, the subject of today’s cover story (see Page 6). Hanging out in his studio with his collection of vintage microphones sent me into the closet where I keep my music. I pulled out a stack of records for the living room and CDs for the car.

I don’t have an MP3 player, but not because I’m an audio snob. I just like mechanical things.

I enjoy holding records in my lap and contemplating the pop-art illustration on the cover of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” or the faces of Vikki Carr, Glen Campbell or a young, clean-shaven Willie Nelson. I like sliding the vinyl disc out of the case, gently lowering the record onto the turntable and placing the needle onto the groove.

Because a lot of my driving is on the open highway, I like to listen to albums for a single sustained mood rather than the emotional smorgasbord of a mixtape.

Just as I am careful about what I eat, I am very intentional about what music I listen to. But not in the way you might think.

I do not have an educated or geek-level taste in music. I cannot participate in conversations about who was in the control room during Led Zeppelin’s recording sessions, which live version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is seminal or even whether Yoko broke up the band.

But I know what music I like and how it affects me. I use music like medicine, coffee or alcohol to induce good vibrations or calm the spinning wheel in my brain. I have always been sensitive to music’s mood-altering power. As a teen I sometimes left a party for no other reason than the music was interfering with my state of mind.

The therapeutic value of music has been confirmed by research.


German study

found music was more effective in reducing pre-operative anxiety than a widely used medication. The study said Bach, Mozart and “Italian composers” were ideal, while heavy metal or techno music was particularly ineffective and can possibly lead to dangerous arrhythmias, a finding that could explain my aversion to those genres.

Prevention magazine reported

findings from Austria

that a combination of music and relaxation imagery significantly reduced lower-back pain. Everyone got standard medical care (painkillers, physical therapy), but half also listened to music and performed relaxation exercises every day. Sonatas were found to work especially well.

In 2009, Harvard published an article called “

Using music to tune the heart

.” It contained findings from several sources:

• Nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital found that heart patients who listened to music for 30 minutes had lower blood pressure, slower heart rates and less distress than those who didn’t.

• At Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, patients who listened to music following cardiac surgery were less anxious and reported less pain than those who just rested quietly.

• University of Maryland Medical Center researchers measured healthier blood flow rates on volunteers when they listened to music or relaxation tapes that evoked joy, and less healthy rates when they listened to music that provoked anxiety.

Music also has been shown to improve memory. A

New York Times article

in 2012 described promising anecdotal reports from loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients who noticed increased responsiveness and liveliness when the patients listened to their favorite music.

It makes sense. For me, songs have always conjured deep-seated memories as effectively as tastes and smells, even though there is no aural literary counterpart to Proust’s madeleines.

I hear “Tijuana Taxi” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and I’m riding down Pacific Coast Highway with my dad in his powder blue TR-4 convertible with the top down.

“Dark Side of the Moon” transports me back to sitting on a shag-carpeted floor in a dark room with eight or nine friends and no one talking.

“The Real Slim Shady” incongruously evokes my 10-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter and their friends singing and aping rap moves in the living room in Westwood and me hoping I don’t get phone calls from parents about the music selection later.

Those vivid triggers are the exception. Much more often, albums create distinct moods, and it’s fun to keep a range of them within reach to calibrate your daily well-being.


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