Josh FitzgeraldThis article written by Josh Fitzgerald, Area 9 Secretary

I think everyone reading this article would agree that music has a profound impact on their life. For some, the love and study of music have developed into a full or part-time vocation and one of life’s major pursuits. For others, it may be simply a way to connect and fellowship with others, to share a talent, and give service to a church or organization they support. And yet others appreciate, not by participating, by simply by listening. So just by listening, are there more tangible benefits of music? Why would listening to music affect us as individuals so profoundly in a way that appreciating other mediums does not?

In hopping around from link to link online, I discovered there have been numerous studies done which prove there are physiological and psychological benefits that can come from simply listening to music. I knew this subconsciously to be true, but reading the data from the studies was enlightening. I would like to share some examples and thoughts from those, keeping in mind that the benefits we enjoy as musicians performing the music are likely above and beyond those of listening alone.

Researchers in Austria did a controlled study that suggested listening to music assisted in decreasing back pain in patients who chronically suffered following back surgeries. The age of participants ranged from 21 to 68, and the control group received typical physical therapy and pharmacological treatments. The researchers found at the end of the study that the group who listened to music (and took visualization classes), instead of receiving standard medical care, experienced more pain relief than those who did not.

There was another study of cataracts surgery patients who were able to reduce hypertension by listening to music before, during, and after their operations. A different type of study concluded that bicyclists enjoyed an 11 percent distance or output improvement during their workout when listening to music versus when they bicycled and did not listen. In yet another instance, research showed that assembly workers demonstrated increased happiness and work efficiency while listening to music in their repetitive factory tasks compared to when they did not. While it is not clear whether the result is because of the music balancing out other loud ambient noise in the environment, or simply because of improving individuals’ moods overall, according to this study, simply listening to music, productivity and economic benefit can be realized.

And I would be remiss not to point out just a few benefits of listening outside of a musical context. Psychologically, listening to others helps build mutual trust and reduces tension and stress when discussing a delicate matter. It has been shown that with good listening skills, problem resolution occurs faster due to people feeling encouraged to discuss issues and obstacles, and fewer mistakes occur because good listening promotes better retention of information. Thus, productivity increases in such situations. Good active listeners have been shown to demonstrate more empathy and better ability to focus. Because most people prefer a good listener to someone who does not listen well, research has also shown that those who listen well are more well-liked and viewed as having a more desirable personality than those who do not listen very well.

There are hundreds and hundreds more examples that demonstrate the psychological and physical benefits of listening to music. As musicians, we already know this to be innately true without data sets and research papers. We feel it, both emotionally and physiologically, when a piece of music moves us to think or grieve, or smile, or act, or laugh, or cry. Perhaps we feel it in a religious context when a piece of music causes us to reflect on a deeper spiritual meaning as well. Or, just when being at rehearsal changes our mood and day around.

So where do these conclusions lead us handbell musicians? I feel compelled as a volunteer leader in the organization, and as a music director, to challenge us to use the benefits of listening to improve our musical world. When is the last time you changed the radio station in your car to listen to something you otherwise wouldn’t have? You know, the one with the terrible music, or to the station your children would choose, or maybe just the one with “bad selections.” Have you turned on your favorite mp3 device, or popped in a CD, not to listen to and choose handbell music, but rather, to decompress and relax, or motivate yourself on a new goal, or to ponder on something complicated, or to challenge yourself with a new way of thinking? You might be surprised at the result and your newly found approach to the situation or concept simply by listening to music, or by changing the music to which you are listening.

And, when was the last time you went and listened to a public recital or concert? Might I suggest one of a community handbell ensemble or a presentation by a church music program? The organization which presents such concerts will surely benefit in many ways by your attendance. And who knows? You too may benefit from a decreased heart rate, or by something new to think about, or by a sense of happiness, calm, and peace. We are all busy and have too many things on our to-do lists. But, since it is March right now, I challenge you to put a minimum of 2 opportunities to listen to live music in your calendar before the end of the year – at least one before the end of this school calendar during April, May, or June. The Handbell Musicians of America websites at the Area and National levels can guide you to find something that is convenient for your schedule, and close by too. By making a commitment, without excuses, to attend a program of one of your local groups, you support the other members of our organization; we are stronger and benefit immensely by our relationship to others. Most importantly, however, by listening, you will also be giving a gift to yourself.