The Importance of Music in Our World

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Table of Contents

  • Rates of depression in indigenous communities
  • How musical instruments vary across regions
  • The importance of self-expression and music to the indigenous community
  • Every musical instrument or song used serves a specific purpose
  • Relevant research

Music cannot happen without sound, so people make instruments. The creation of musical instruments in indigenous communities are influenced by different regions, for example differences in drum material, and throat singing. But why is music important? Music is believed to installs faith, revives one’s spirits, and brings assurance in maintaining culture and its survival through music in the indigenous community. Thus, this essay will demonstrate why and how music influences indigenous communities. Specifically, this essay will show how music is used as an effective way to alleviate emotional and mental disturbances such as depressive, anxiety, and possibly other related symptoms. This is in the hopes of shedding some light as to why music therapy needs to be implemented more in indigenous communities. The following will explore the rates of depression in indigenous communities, how musical instruments vary across regions, why self-expression and music is important to the indigenous community, and studies that show that music combats maladaptive symptoms.

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Rates of depression in indigenous communities


Kisely et al. (2017) paper reviewed 250,959 participants across 19 studies from the US, Canada, Brazil, Guatemala, and Chile to compare the prevalence of disorders among Indigenous communities. More precisely, they wanted to find out whether the rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more present in indigenous communities compared to others in the same countries (Kisely et al., 2017). They found that indigenous communities had higher rates of PTSD and social phobia, and about the same rate of anxiety and depression as other communities (Kisely et al., 2017). This review elaborates by mentioning that being culturally discriminated and traumatized is more likely to lead to PTSD and social phobia more than other disorders (Kisely et al., 2017). However, they did find that males in indigenous communities have a very high rate of suicide in US and Canada than other communities, implying that most studies are not accurate in screening for depression with indigenous people (Kisely et al., 2017). This could be due to the fact that depression in males is most likely displayed as aggressiveness, violence, and drug abuse (Kisely et al., 2017). Nevertheless, this review indicates that indigenous communities across North and South America share a common emotional and mental battle in the form of depression, anxiety (social phobia), and PTSD (Kisely et al., 2017). As this study shows, indigenous people are struggling with their mental health. This is where music can be beneficial. Firstly, Diamond (2008) talk a bit about what musical instruments certain indigenous communities are using.

How musical instruments vary across regions


Diamond (2008) mention that in the Nain community “string ensembles and brass bands” are used in performances during brutal winters (Diamond, 2008). Other Arctic regions, influenced by outsiders, adopted the accordion and fiddle (Diamond, 2008). In Quebec, “a string instrument with a trepezoid-shaped box resonator” was developed (Diamond, 2008). In Nunavut, they used a large drum with heavy wooden frames, Greenland uses a thinner version of the same instrument (Diamond, 2008). In other region, throat singing or singing in general is the only instrument available (Diamond, 2008). In addition to that, there are many varieties of music which include “powwows, flute, chicken scratch and peyote” (Diamond, 2008). All this to demonstrate that no matter the place or situation, music is a common factor among indigenous communities which demonstrates that music is an important element in their culture. Certain studies elaborate on why self-expression and music are important to indigenous communities

The importance of self-expression and music to the indigenous community


Bien (2005) study explores art therapy as a form of medicine for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma related illness experienced by Native Americans. The author chose to present one case study where the participants form of art was drawing, however lessons can be applied to music therapy (Bien, 2005). The participant disclosed that by drawing he felt that he was able to release some of the thoughts and feelings he experiences (Bien, 2005). The author mentions that by resurfacing some of one's mental representations one is able to think differently about them and to view them in a new light (Bien, 2005). Also, the author implies that by expressing deep negative feelings it acts as a healing process because one is facing the problems instead of letting them continue to internalize it in the soul and manifest as illnesses (Bien, 2005). This also allows one to get to the root of the problem (Bien, 2005). For instance, the participant displayed an initial feeling of anger but realises that it is a defense mechanism for protecting him from being overwhelmed with shame due to his family issues (Bien, 2005). All this to say, expressing oneself through art leads to a heightened awareness to one’s soul, and enables one to self-reflect on what is missing or broken, and bring back balance to oneself. If every person were to start expressing themselves honestly then that would lead to the healing of the community as a whole.

Diamond and Hoefnagels (2012) mention that one reason why music is important is because it brings people together. In one example, Sadie talks about her time growing up and witnessing her father visit her neighbors just start singing without any formal greeting, her father and neighbors would sing for hours, about anything, until morning (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012). Sadie gives another example of the value of music to a community, where she says that when she would go to gatherings, even if she did not know the song others were singing, she was allowed to join in without restriction, this made he feel very connected to her community (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012). In Wallace’s story about collaboration he brings up a quote from Janmohamed, who he collaborated with, that speaks upon the importance of music (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012). Janmohamed states “Music is built around community, and community is built through and around music” (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012). Wallace further elaborates to say that songs are “rooted” to one’s connection to earth and ones being (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012).

Every musical instrument or song used serves a specific purpose


Diamond (2008) state that “The Inuit of Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland have used forms of traditional knowledge”. Some regions identify a drum as a window to the dream world (Diamond, 2008). To the Innu people, also known as Nitassinan, they consider dreams to be their only musical source for inspiration (Diamond, 2008). Thus, drums are used to translate their dreams (Diamond, 2008). Furthermore, Natassinan consider the drum to be central to their identity because “[the drum is] an instrument that embodies beliefs about the spirit world and precontact religious practices” (Diamond, 2008). Other aspects of music that are considered religious practices are hymns (Diamond, 2008). For instance, Diamond (2008) describes that the Innu nation use hymns as a way to communicate with the “exterior world”.

Further instances where songs serve a purpose, was when Diamond (2008) mentioned that Wabenaki social songs relate to relationships in the community. For instance, such as “trading songs...and welcoming songs” (Diamond, 2008). Some of these songs are used to welcome important figures into a community, and some are used as a peace offering (Diamond, 2008). On the topic of peace offerings, songs are also used to raise funds for communities in need (Diamond, 2008). In the same manner that the “Singing Societies” aim to do when attending gathering such as a “Sing” (Diamond, 2008).

Diamond (2008) also show that songs as a source of strength. Diamond (2008) mentions that after certain games they dance and sing. In one instance, the men sing songs that “bring strength to the players of one team as they take on the red power that will bring them victory” (Diamond, 2008).

Souliere and Hoefnagels (2012) further elaborate on that mentioning that after an exhausting day playing the drums would give Berverley incredible energy, and that the drums were a form of praying that impacted her “physically...mentally...spiritually...and emotionally” and it makes her feel like she is transforming and growing every time she plays.

In Wallace’s interview, he hinted that his collaborations with Janmohamed also serve a political weapon (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012). He states that his music breaks the barriers of segregation in art in his city because people are motivated to exchange ideas and sounds with diverse cultures in their community (Diamond & Hoefnagels, 2012).

Regarding bringing people together, other artists and groups have made it their mission to break down political barriers that served to keep communities divided, such as Buffy Sainte Marie and the IDLE NO MORE Movement (Argue, personal communication, November 18 2019). Buffy Sainte Marie, right from the start, wanted to bring awareness of how indigenous communities are being treated and aimed to create alliances and peace within communities (Argue, personal communication, November 25 2019). Also, the IDLE NO MORE Movement served the same purpose as Buffy but by travelling domestically and internationally to perform round dances with supporters to protest against abuse of indigenous rights to obtain social and economic equality, as well as environmental protection (Argue, personal communication, November 18 2019).

Relevant research


In addition to the previous statements regarding the divers purpose of music, certain studies show that music combats maladaptive symptoms.

Fallon et al. (2019) study wanted to test the effects of music therapy by examining the stress levels of those listening versus creating music. They recruited over a hundred people to take part in their study and divided them up into 3 groups, listening to music, playing music, and a group doing nothing (Fallon et al., 2019). They found that those who either listen or played music had better results than those who did nothing (Fallon et al., 2019). However, the group with the largest measurable stress reduction seems to be those who played music (Fallon et al., 2019). This shows that any form of music involvement can reduce stress, but especially playing music can have a positive impact on one's health (Fallon et al., 2019). Thus, this study sheds light on the beneficial results of possible music interventions.

Similar to the previous study, Choi, Lee, and Lim (2008) wanted to determine whether music therapy was effective in relieving depressive and anxious symptoms among patients in psychiatric facilities. They applied an hour of music therapy twice a week for 15 sessions (Choi, Lee, & Lim, 2008). They found that by singing and playing instruments the severity of the patient’s symptoms reduced significantly (Choi, Lee, & Lim, 2008). They believed that being involved in music allowed the patients to let out their feelings which lead them to build self-esteem through self-reflection and acknowledgement (Choi, Lee, & Lim, 2008). This, in turn, results in improved mental and physical (Choi, Lee, & Lim, 2008). This study adds to the implications of Fallon et al. study, by further extending on the benefits of music therapy. They also show that music therapy aids in improving one’s mood, stress anxiety, and depression.

Moreover, Jani et al. (2016) study aimed to test the effectiveness of an intervention in reducing maladaptive symptoms and other mental health related problems among adolescents in Ethiopia. They recruited over five hundred girls and over a hundred boys ages 15 to 18 to participate in a 3-month creative art therapy which aimed to address certain aspects of mental disorders (Jani et al., 2016). The participants were given counselling and creative outlets such as individual counselling, group counselling, and creative therapies as well as they choice of music, art, or drama (Jani et al., 2016). They found that the intervention was successful in minimizing aggressiveness and other mental health issues with girls more than boys (Jani et al., 2016). Specifically, the intervention was believed to have helped the girls in gaining self-esteem and a way to manage stress (Jani et al., 2016). However, the reasons that the intervention did not work so well for the boys was because, not only were they withdrawn at first, but they had much more severe experiences and mental health issues and were aggressive and demanding towards staff members which would require an intervention specifically for boys, more intensive, and with a longer duration than 3 months (Jani et al., 2016). Overall, the benefits of this intervention would be much more useful to those open and willing to be helped in a creative way.

Further, Goudreau et al. (2008) study explored the benefits of hand drumming on one’s mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. They study interviewed 7 women who are aboriginals hand drummers, and also had access to their diaries for an in-depth analysis (Goudreau et al., 2008). They found that the women described the sound of the drum giving them energy and relaxing them at the same time (Goudreau et al., 2008). Some women said that the drum eases their tension, relieves their stress, gives them a sense of vitality (Goudreau et al., 2008). Another woman said that drumming helped her focus and have a clear mind (Goudreau et al., 2008). While another woman said that drumming helped her change her mindset when she starts to think negatively, and that it built her self-confidence (Goudreau et al., 2008). One even said that she replaced drinking, since she was an alcoholic, with drumming (Goudreau et al., 2008). The most common statement the women said was that they felt like the drum gave them an outlet to release they emotions without the restriction of words (Goudreau et al., 2008). The results of this study indicate that drumming gives women peace of mind, enjoyment, a sense of community, and a positive coping mechanism from day-to-day, historical, or generational stressors.

The goal of this essay is to demonstrate that music is used as an effective way to alleviate emotional and mental disturbances such as depressive, anxiety, and possibly other related symptoms. The hope of this essay is to shed light as to why music therapy needs to be implemented more in indigenous communities. After exploring the rates of depression in indigenous communities, how musical instruments vary across regions, why self-expression and music is important to the indigenous community, and studies show that music combats maladaptive symptoms, it is clear that music therapy is needed in indigenous communities. This essay showed that indigenous communities are burdened by a heaviness in their souls that displays itself as depression, anxiety, phobias, aggressiveness, drug abuse, and PTSD. Deep down indigenous people know that music is the cure because instruments are being created from nature in all regions, and they are singing in unlivable conditions. As the essay showed, music allows one to express themselves, brings people together, acts as a source of strength, and ultimately heals people. 

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