Why Music?

Music, throughout history, contributes to connecting societies and cultures because it is an art form that evolves. As humans, our brains enjoy music and allow us to connect with people we believe have similar experiences as us. Students, band directors and neuroscientists alike feel that music changes all who dare to listen. 

Central sophomore Megan Lett is not involved in music programs, but is an avid listener of music. She is always listening to music no matter where she goes because it offers her an escape from the world and a way to cope with difficult situations. She noticed that not only in herself, but also in her peers who enjoy music equally to her. She said, “I feel like I’m looking for something now, and I don’t necessarily know what it is”, which she later elaborated on by saying that music would have offered her security when she decided to no longer participate in sports. Music is everywhere in her life, and even if her taste in music changes, she thinks that she will always have music as a source of comfort and nostalgia. 

Rogers with Carrie Streetman and Hitarth Barot at a Christmas parade.

Some students pursue music through more formal means, such as the Knoxville Central High School Bobcat Band. Sophomore Ally Rogers is part of the drumline playing cymbals, front ensemble playing the marimba and she achieved first chair at the ETSBOA All-State Clinic for bassoon as well as many other high ranking achievements. She first joined band because “music has always run in [her] family”, and she thought it would be interesting to learn a new instrument or multiple. Over the years, music offered her a community of like-minded people whom she can spend her time with while still being challenged in her thinking abilities and leadership skills. Music allows her to connect with a wide variety of people, which she believes is possible because music is always evolving. It is always changing, and there are different characteristics in each genre which every person can relate to. Rogers elaborated that music influences her by saying, “I feel like if I didn’t have music, I would have nothing.”

Ensor playing his saxophone at a Friday night football game.

Similar to Rogers, Jake Ensor was the drum major for the Bobcat Band last year, and he has been leading those around him musically and personally for years. Ensor chose to do band because he had previously played an instrument and found that music gave him a purpose that he loved. He said that it not only allows him to grow as a musician, but also as a leader in giving directions and speaking with a wide variety of people. Music pushes his development, but it is also a way “that you can hear stories and hear feelings and hear emotion”, which is why he thinks music is still widely popular. Music gives him a way to communicate with those around him and affects him by giving him a community and a purpose to serve. As a senior and leader in the Bobcat Band, Ensor is offered a unique point of view, and he created memories that he will cherish forever. He said, “I think after all the hours and all the effort, all the conversations, and all the after school rehearsals, I have gained an appreciation for pretty much all types of music… that I will probably never let go of.”

Mink directing the Bobcat Band at Concert Festival.

Beyond students, band directors bring years of experience and training. They play instruments, train in the study of music and see the way that music changes the students they have taught. Alex Mink is the current band director at Central High School, and he decided to pursue music as a band student in high school; “I decided that if music could move me in such a way, it would be special to recreate those moments for others.” He sees his students grow and perform to the best of their abilities as a result of his teaching and advice. He knows the trials of playing an instrument due to his experience that “​being a trained musician can be mentally exhausting. There’s no such thing as being ‘good enough.’” Musicians, however, still strive for that perfection and for moments where they feel all of what music offers. Elaborating on that, Mink said, “Musicians strive for ‘moments’ – where you’re overwhelmed with happiness, sadness, anger, and pride… It’s all about chasing those ‘moments.’” These moments are how he sees his students affected by music because they chase that feeling and become better because of it.

Rogers conducting the Sevier County High School Honors Band.

Ronald Rogers has been teaching music for over 35 years and is now retired. He began his career, similarly to Mink, as a student who “realized that [his] favorite place to be was in the band room…” He wanted to share his love of music with others and offer them the same safety and growth that he was given as a student. Over the years, he taught students of all ages and saw the long-term effects of music first-hand.  “In what other class do you realize that your performance ability greatly affects all the other people around you?” he asks. “It will be one of the first experiences that will teach you how to be selfless as you work with others to build something both great and memorable.” Mr. Rogers, in his career, has had more experience with music and its effects on students because he is able to evolve with them. Societal evolution is inevitable, and music is a key factor that pushes and grows with society. 

Not only do people playing music notice its effects, but also those that study the brain. Karli Nave is a current postdoctoral associate working with Dr. Jessica Grahn who is experienced with music and its effects on the brain. When listening to music that includes tempo, rhythm, artistic ideas, and other factors, both hemispheres of the brain are activated. Multiple different cortex and structures within the brain contribute to the way we analyze music including the auditory cortex, visual cortex, the amygdala and/or insula of the emotion processing areas and the basal ganglia which deals mostly with motor function. Dopamine also plays a huge role in the way that we process music because it is known as the “motivation molecule” as Nave said. It is a neurotransmitter that is released when there is some sort of enjoyment or anticipation of enjoyment experienced by the body (source). 

Music is a complex and constantly changing art form that allows for societies to connect and for people to grow. It is something that has been and will most likely continue to be one of the most influential, widely-known factors in the sharing of ideas and the validation of all people.

Read more from The Bobcat Times:

A brief of the Bobcat Band annual Chili dinner

Finding Direction Through Music; ETSBOA Senior Clinic

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