Music: 'The Prosthetic For The Brain'

Aug 31, 2017

Geezerfest is a summer music festival in Orem that reunites local bands. Alan Breese is the director of the event.

“The most joy I get out of the whole thing is just seeing the faces and re-familiarizing with people again that you haven’t seen for a long time and essentially that’s really why Geezerfest was put together," Breese said. "It was put together to bring those musicians back together and to keep live music alive in the hearts of people and in the community and also bring a reunion to all those old band members.”

Geezerfest started about 14 years ago as a backyard gathering of local musicians, and now embraces bands from around Utah and the greater Mountain West. It’s a chance for bands who haven’t played together in years to reunite, introduce their families and play live classic rock to the younger generation. It can be used as a therapeutic time to share and connect emotionally by reminiscing about older music.

“I think music is not just generational, it spans generations," Breese said. "It’s a great communication tool. Music can really make you feel a certain way, and can bring a lot of happiness and I think people enjoy that. I think the generations of the past influence the generations of today. Generations of today will influence the music of tomorrow.”

Taylor Garner is a musician in Logan, Utah who writes and performs music directed toward the millennial generation. He identifies with a softer and more modern genre.

For Garner, the most therapeutic part about being a musician has been seeing the finished product of something he created from scratch.

“I absolutely am obsessed and addicted to the journey to get to a finished song," Garner said. "I just absolutely love having a finish product that I can listen back to, remember how I was feeling at that time and connect with it and then also having something that I can have a little sense of pride in and share with other people and hope to God that at least one person out there would feel what I’m saying.”

Garner has struggled in the past with drug addiction and says he’s used music to help him on his path to sobriety.

“Music was always the only thing that made sense," Garner said. "Ultimately the thing that helped me get out everything that I was feeling inside was writing. I felt like that was really the way that I could channel every emotion that I was feeling and get things out; make sense of things that were in my mind that I didn’t necessarily know how else to express. Music’s the thing that pulled me out of those dark places.”

Garner says there are ways for recovering addicts to find hope on the journey to getting clean.

“You can even Google musicians that had a journey to sobriety," Garner said. "You can find musicians who have geared their music towards helping people get sober. I would highly, highly, highly encourage anybody to find ways where you can be a good enough writer to be able to express emotions, get things out that you’re feeling inside through your journey to sobriety, because there always needs to be more outlets, you can’t ever have enough outlets when you’re trying to get sober. And there’s plenty of people out there who have gone through the same thing that have struggled with addiction and overcome it. And a lot of them are musicians, and their music can benefit like crazy.

“Connection happens through music in a way that nothing else can on planet earth. I feel like the connection itself comes from the emotion behind the song. I feel like people connect emotionally. Even through instrumental music, some instrumental songs say more than any amount of words could. It’s just all about emotion connecting to each individual person.”

In the process of creating a song, Garner appreciates and finds meaning in every element of music.

“Nothing is by accident," Garner said. "Nothing is just a filler, for me personally. Nothing is just put there to fill empty space. Every single thing is on purpose - every note, every harmony, every vocal line, every piano riff every guitar riff - it’s all there on purpose.”

Music therapy expert Jennifer Birchell, who works at Sunshine Terrace nursing home in Logan, says every element of a song plays a different role in effecting and reaching impaired areas of the human brain.

“There’s the different tamers that you hear whether it’s a violin or a singer or a piano versus a cello that is processed in a part of a brain but then the melody line is processed in a different part of the brain," Birchell said. "The harmonies are processed in one area, but the beat and the rhythm is processed in a different area. The words of a song versus just the melody line - two different things.”

According to Birchell, music therapy can work for many diseases or disorders; Dementia, Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Sclerosis, depression, many neurologic issues; because it can reach parts of the brain effected by each individual condition.

At her nursing home, she attempts to keep residents engaged with each other through musical activities, which can also decrease depression.

“Bringing them out of their room and keeping them away from social isolation," Birchell said, "that’s the cause of depression, just isolating yourself will cause depression. Our goal is to engage them in that interaction with other people as long as we’re trying to keep things as upbeat and fun as possible. I’m always evaluating, ‘What type of music do you like? What can I play for you?’”

Music also has the ability to change a person’s mood and decrease agitation.

“It’s called using the iso principal," Birchell said, "which is matching the music to the mood that they’re in at the moment and then adjusting the music whichever way you’d like them to go.”

“Emotionally we can help people write songs, "Birchell said. "It’s an emotional release. It also helps them examine their feelings a little bit closer, when you’re actually putting it into words. It’s a real exercise in self-examination about all these thoughts that are in your head and then you actually put them down on paper, and you can really, really help people work through a lot of stuff in their life when they do song writing.”

Birchell suggests that music can heal our brains in ways that medical procedures cannot.

“Because music, the way it works throughout the brain," Birchell said, "can bypass any of the parts that might be damaged or not working in a proper way. Dr. Oliver Sacks was a noted neurologist, he passed away about a year and a half ago, unfortunately. But he did a lot of research on that very thing, and he often said that ‘music is the prosthetic for the brain.’”