Mikaela Griffiths admits she sings out loud when she listens to music through headphones.
And, like many others who do the same, she doesn’t think this makes her crazy, weird, or out of tune with reality. And Griffiths should know — she’s a music therapist by profession.
We talk over the phone.
She’s in East London; I’m in Johannesburg. What Griffiths and I want to establish is this: how do people consume or relate to music?
“Humans are musical beings. Music is a universal language. People listen to music for different reasons,” Griffiths says. “It is a creative expression of who we are — very much part of our identity-formation.”
She goes on to say that no matter how strange or edgy, the music people listen to shouldn’t be a basis on which to judge them.
This makes me believe that if we want to know more about an individual without judging them, then we need to look at society and draw some conclusions.
The first step is to examine the changes in the music industry in the past two decades or so.
In the book How Music Works (2012), singer and author David Byrne condenses the history of music. He believes that music (pop music) as we know it today had its genesis in African tradition and culture. Ironic, isn’t it, that we tend to overlook the music made on our own shores?
At one point in our conversation, Griffiths says: “I think it would be more important to ask why popular culture and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, America and the music business is more appealing than making music ourselves.”
Now that music is everywhere or, more precisely, in everybody’s pockets — Byrne notes in his book that music moved from public spaces (concerts and live performances) to private listening (MP3 players and cellphones) — it’s probably natural that those interested in analysing the sometimes amusing behaviour of music fans start with the common behaviours.
THE first of the three most common is the individual who puts earphones on while they walk down the street.
The second is the person who, rather than keep his or her music indoors, takes the speakers outside and plays the music up for everybody to hear.
The third one, which might be an annoyance to those nearby, is the character who likes to sing out loud in places you wouldn’t want or expect them to. The workplace, for example.
Is there warped or illogical reasoning behind these kinds of people or behaviour?
Griffiths doesn’t want to judge at all, but — reluctantly — does try to explain the rationale behind these kinds of behaviours.
On the first type, Griffiths says it might be in protest against the noise that surrounds us every day.
“The culture we are living in (at) the moment, we are bombarded with sound,” she says.
On the second, Griffith says: “I think they do it for two reasons. One is they are showing everybody what they like, and they are sharing that experience without consideration of the people around them.
“Also, (they do it) to draw people that have similar interests to them. They are advertising themselves, in a way. So, somebody that enjoys that music will gravitate towards them. Somebody that is repulsed (by) this music will walk away.”
To mitigate against ambient noise, and this second type of music lover, there is the third — the person who dons earphones in an attempt to block out unwanted sounds.
But, then, the singing bit?
Griffiths admits she is one of these earphone-wearing singers.
She says this “is something we might do unconsciously”.
So, these seemingly crazy ways we respond to music are signs that we are normal; not the other way around.
The problem, Griffiths says, is we try hard not to give in to these natural urges — to sing aloud or dance to our favourite songs.
This, she traces back to being told as a child not to do these things.
“Some people really just enjoy singing. They just can’t help it. Listening to music is very much in touch with reality.”
Griffiths tells me we need music to stimulate us, evoking feelings of pleasure or displeasure.
NO DOUBT, we are sometimes angry at the way society is moving and how the country is run. Enter the protest song. Hugh Masekela, the veteran jazz musician, is noted to have recorded one of the most poignant protest songs the world has ever heard, 1987’s Bring Him Back Home — a song in protest against the apartheid government for detaining the late president Nelson Mandela.
The world took notice. It was a case of music fighting for the people, as people from faraway responded.
Fast-forward to 2016 — with all the social upheavals and discontent — and the citizenry is not happy about the country’s president. This, some have said, is the reason why this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival attendees booed Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthetwa off stage.
Some later opined that the minister should have known festivalgoers just wanted a few moments away from all the politics and all the seriousness.
Politics aside, big companies are known for using famous musicians to rally the masses behind their services or products.
One such example is global star Pharrell Williams — more especially after his 2014 international hit song Happy. Woolworths, for example, is collaborating with Williams on sustainability projects, but he became an alluring target for pro-Palestinian protesters in SA.
And what about death? The last question I ask Griffiths is, why do we suddenly play the music of musicians when they die? I mention English singer-songwriter David Bowie, who died earlier this year.
“In a way, we are honouring the person and their contribution to our culture,” Griffiths says.
“On another level, we can appreciate music and art regardless of whether the person is alive or not.
“We still appreciate Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings, and it’s got everything to do with how they make us feel. If you look at David Bowie, yes, suddenly everyone is listening to him, because they are reminded of the fact that there is a loss.”
So, what about Griffiths’s work as a music therapist? Music therapy is not about listening to prerecorded music — the same way you wouldn’t go to a psychologist and start reading poetry to each other.
Griffiths says music therapists believe we are making music during every minute of our lives.
Simply put, music therapy is about embracing the music from within; and not having to have someone make music for you
Source: Business Day Live