Feel the impact of music

Music has a mysterious impact on people. It can make them cry, laugh or stand up and clap. Music's effect depends on the style, the individual and science.

Sequim musician Al Harris has been investigating music most of his life and he feels a discovery awaits everyone.

At the age of 14, Harris had his first eye-opening experience with music when he sneaked out of his home to an after-hours jazz club in Vancouver, British Columbia. A jazz saxophonist played the song "Forest Flower." Within the first 20 seconds, Harris felt like he was somewhere else entirely. When the song ended, Harris said he "came to."

"I didn't feel hypnotized, but it was like music carried me somewhere and brought me back," he said.

From that point, Harris began investigating the experience because he wanted to know if it were genuine and if others shared it. He interviewed 27 musicians from all types of life.

He determined that the experience wasn't a healing one - as in musical therapy - but a scientific matter involving frequencies.

In his studies, a faith healer revealed an important concept to him through a story.

"In a restaurant, if a chef is in a good mood, then he will receive lots of compliments because his mood is somehow carried into the food, but if he is in a bad mood, then he will not hear anything about it," Harris said, paraphrasing the healer.

Harris asked himself if the same emotions could be carried across for musicians, painters, etc., to their listeners and viewers.

He determined that when someone makes an item such as a song or painting then the "intent" from the creator is carried over to the creation and subsequently into others.

"The chef was saying that these people felt the differences in his attitude through his food," Harris said.

While in Sequim, Harris has been teaching adult piano lessons. He sees on a consistent basis that when older students improvise musically they take "a mini-vacation from worry," Harris said.

He assumes their experiences are similar to those of his own in the jazz club at age 14. Harris attributes their escapism to opening up neural pathways again, for as people age, their motor functions deteriorate without proper stimulation.

When learning piano, their new development can be attributed to the concept of "flow," he said.

"Whenever you do something you absolutely love, then you get into a 'flow' like Michael Jordan draining shot after shot," Harris said. "If you are caught in that moment, then those worries go away."

Music has served Harris as an escape from his troubles and he hopes to carry that positive attitude through to his students.

Harris' main scientific research comes from Dr. John Diamond, author of "The Life Energy in Music, Volumes I and II." Diamond believes each muscle is related to a particular organ, which is the concept of behavioral kinesiology.

Diamond began testing music's effects in the 1950s at a mental hospital treating some of the then-worst-known mental disorders. He received an old piano for the facility and later was shocked to hear an elderly woman patient playing a Beethoven sonata. Over time, she began playing Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas in order and she was cured and released from the mental hospital.

"Music somehow raises the life force and life energy of a person," Harris said, quoting Diamond.

Diamond also worked with seasoned musicians who had lost their love for music. He'd give them new instruments, different instruments from their own, and encouraged creativity. Most times, this revitalized their passions.

Harris has carried this over to his own teaching.

"What if I look for what is right in the person while they are playing, rather than what might be wrong?" Harris asked.

Recently, he began working with a woman in her late 60s who just had started piano, her first instrument. Harris shared his "do right" attitude while she played, which caught her by surprise. The woman began crying and told him that no one ever had told her what she'd done right before.

Harris believes music can impact people in every stage of life.

When he played at an Alzheimer's clinic in Olym-pia, he saw the patients moving and tapping their toes. Staff at the clinic told him that these people hadn't responded for months.

As the director of Adventures in Music, part of the Port Angeles Symphony, Harris played piano at a concert. Before it began, an inattentive girl who was paraplegic was wheeled next to him. When he began playing, she beamed through the rest of the concert, Harris said.

Other local musicians also have experienced music's impact.

While performing in the community, The Olympic Peninsula Men's Chorus members often see people change emotionally.

"It's very apparent in nursing facilities. It takes them to another place. You can see it in their faces. They sing along," said Byron Nelson, president of the chorus.

"It ties them to that moment of peace in their youth," said Gary McRoberts, director of the men's chorus.

Tracy Blume, vocalist for Jazz in Blume, continually sees the positive emotion come out of people when she performs.

"I feel like the Barbara Walters of singing. I really strike a chord with some audiences," Blume said.

"'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' makes a lot of audience members cry. It brings back a memory for them."

Blume feels that music is multifaceted and can induce sensations suitable for romance, shopping or cleaning the house.

"I try to do something for myself when I play and sing music, which happens to carry over to other people," she said.

"Playing can transfer you to another place," McRoberts said.

While working on a recital for his bachelor's degree, McRoberts said he lost track of time and played for 10 hours straight when he thought it was only a little bit of time.

Dewey Ehling, director of Peninsula Chamber Singers and conductor for the Port Townsend Community Orchestra, led a 168-member orchestra in Anchorage, Alaska. After each rehearsal, a psychologist in the band told him, "Thanks for the therapy."

"People tell me all the time after rehearsal, 'Thank you' because they lose themselves for an hour or two," Ehling said.

Many musicians believe music can heal, too.

"Quite frankly, it could be a spiritual moment. It's very cathartic," Nelson said.

McRoberts said when he taught high school, a few of his students were suicidal and music was the only thing that pulled them through, by listening and by playing.

"It was a big part of their lives," McRoberts said.

McRoberts also feels classical musical is the most soothing style for people because "it reflects a deeper element to man." He referred to the Mozart syndrome: "Music is so formalized that if your life is chaotic and your state of mind is wild, then music can calm you."

McRoberts believes young-er generations can relate to rock 'n' roll but it's just a matter of which styles someone grows up with and can be brought back to for nostalgia.

Harris believes there is no denying music's impact on the world, but listeners must find those positive examples for themselves.

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