The Doctors Next Door

Gettin' High on Music

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"Do you have a rubberband", Paul asked the barmaid. She plopped it down on the bar in front of us and looked up at me.  My hair, plastered with sweat against my face and neck, prompted her "Is this for your hair?"

I nodded.

She shook her head then took the elastic hair band off her wrist, handed it to me and returned the wretched rubberband to its resting place.   

I had just come off the dance floor after communing with the Anointed Vessel Gospel Choir.
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When I ultimately left the utopia that is Fitzgerald's American Music Festival, I know I was healthier than when I entered.  Dancing with perfect strangers and smiling with one another as if they're long-lost childhood friends must be good for you.  

In fact, in it's 1946 preamble, the World Health Organization defines health as:

...a state of complete physical,

mental, and social well-being rather than

merely the absence of disease or infirmity.


Let's take a look at the parts of the brain that we know to be stimulated by the arts, the amygdala and the hypocampus.
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The amygdalae are almond-shaped groups of cells located deep within the brain. They have been shown to perform an essential role in the processing of memory and emotion

While my amygdalae where doing their thing, a stranger rushed out of the bathroom and hurriedly approached me. Within an inch of my nose she asked, "are we still doing the hokey-pokey?"  "Yes" I shouted over the loud music.  This version of the hokey-pokey by the band, Brave Combo, was sure proof that there are truly no limits to human creativity.  

So now let's take some scientific leaps on the topic of my brain chemistry. Dancing, smiling and sweating in the summer heat with a group of strangers from different ages, ethnic groups and walks of life had the natural effect of furthering my lessons in the philosophy of The World Can Be a Beautiful Place.  The music stimulated my amygdalae and this philosophical teaching became further anchored in my own personal belief system.

Now, truth be told, we need healthy amygdalae. Data show that the amygdalae have a substantial role in mental states. Amygdala activity and function have been associated with psychological disorders like borderline personality disorder, social phobia and depression.

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The amygdalae communicate with the hypothalamus which communicates with the pituitary gland and impacts the release of substances like that ubiquitous stress hormone, cortisol. It is also connected with many parts of the central nervous system.

While the medical literature is pretty limited on this topic, there is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer or participant, can enhance one's moods, emotions, and other psychological states. It's even been shown that such activities can reduce stress and depression and may also help relieve the burden of chronic illnesses. Music therapy has been shown to decrease anxiety and pain as well as improve the function of the nervous system.  For example, literature on the use of music therapy with cancer patients have been reported to:
  • increase hospitalized patients' sense of control
  • promote the healthy aspects of patients' lives
  • reduce pain
  • improve immunity
  • decrease anxiety and overall psychological and physical symptoms
These results only capture the impact of the artistic experience.  How do you capture the social impact of the shared experience of great music?  My two experiences above, while small, show that for one evening I had at least one thing in common with every other person at Fitzgerald's. This
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shared experience of enjoying good music on a hot summer night, caused a barmaid to be concerned about the hair shaft breakage of a perfect stranger and a bar patron to comfortably invade my personal space to ensure she could be in step with the hokey pokey.

Give it a try yourself!  There are so many wonderful music venues in Chicago!

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