By Mark Connolly, S5 Pupil, St Columba’s School, Kilmacolm

AS broadcaster and author Sally Magnusson eloquently asserted in an article in the Herald Magazine last month, “even in despair, there is something that can help”.

Her experience of despair was witnessing her mother’s loss of independence and cognitive ability to dementia; the something that helped, the undeniable power of music.

As a musician myself (or at least a drummer – whether or not that qualifies me as a musician is a debate for another day), I have been lucky enough to witness its strength and its adaptability first-hand. On one level, music has enriched my school experience at St Columba’s School, with performing in bands and orchestras a means to connect me with like-minded young people, and the calming release of playing the instrument a welcome distraction from exam stress.

On another level, I have realised as time has gone on the reasons why we can engage so strongly with music. The answer is its universality: whether fans of jazz, reggae, rock or classical, the fundamental science which underlies music remains the same. This is due to the fact that chords – the building blocks of all musical theory – are closely linked with our neurological functions, such that when we hear a particular chord, our brain releases chemicals, such as serotonin, which form our emotions. Hence, no matter our ethnicity, social class, age, or background, all humans are able to detect the feeling in music. This is what I mean when I talk of the true power of music.

And lastly, through reading about Magnusson’s experience of her mother’s condition, I have been able to comprehend the most potent application of this. I similarly witnessed my grandmother suffering from dementia. What most affected me was the way in which she ceased to communicate coherently, and was thus cut off from loved ones. As she was gradually stripped of that which made her human – thinking and feeling and basic expression – so she became more isolated, losing her very identity in the process.

But through this I witnessed what music could do in the last resort. When exposed to her favourite song – Daisy Bell – she was imbued once more with the energy and spirit which her condition had deprived her of so cruelly, as she sang and laughed with us. In this way, she was able to engage with her family as before, but rather than through speech, through music.

That is why I welcome Magnusson’s contribution to the discussion of music therapy, and throw my support behind all forms of charity therein. As someone who has witnessed just how important music can be and continues to be for so many, we cannot afford to ignore not only the science which supports these moves, but also the human stories of those who may be affected. It’s not something that we necessarily choose, but rather something we need. It brings us closer to humanity and reminds us that there’s something more to our existence than what we immediately perceive – the “hope” espoused by Magnusson.

One needs only to listen for the healing qualities that music possesses, and remember that whatever emotions we feel or whichever chemical shifts our brains undergo, our lives will ultimately be punctuated by the music which matches these emotions: the soundtrack of your life. And how fitting that the music which speaks to us now may have the power to bring us out from the shadows in times of suffering.

May we, each and every one of us, treasure this while we can.