Image courtesy of Israel Palacio @unsplash.

“The darkest time of night is immediately before dawn. Light is incredibly generous, but also gentle. When you attend to the way dawn comes, you learn how the light can coax the dark.”

– John O’Donahue, Anam Cara

Some of the hardest hit communities in Italy are showing us how music is the “light [that] can coax the dark” that COVID-19 is spreading across the world.

The more researchers study how music affects our physical bodies, the more we are beginning to understand how listening to music heals.  Music therapy has even been known to “decrease pain perception, reduce the amount of pain medication needed, help relieve depression, and give people a sense of better control over their pain,” according to Beverly Merz, executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

I do not want the gloom of COVID-19 to overtake my home, so I’m asking myself, What can I do to prepare? Besides grocery store runs and incessant hand washing, is there something more I can do to help my family as we transition to a quarantine-like environment? To be honest, I’m most concerned about the state of our minds as we practice “social distancing.”

At this point, the darkest place on the coronavirus map is Italy. She is the worst affected country, with at least 17,660 cases and 1,266 deaths as of Friday. So, this morning I find myself reading about her. How is Italy coping with closings and lockdown? What are the Italians doing to comfort one another when they cannot leave their homes? What can Americans learn from the Italians as we seek to be emotionally healthy in the first pandemic our country has experienced in over a century?

It appears that some Italians have turned to music as a way to comfort one another and seek healing.  Yesterday, The Jerusalem Post reported social media showing “people on their balconies or leaning from windows and singing the national anthem or popular songs.” On the streets of northern Italy this week, many gathered to sing in their communities. Music has become a gentle light that just might have the power to coax the darkness.

In his book, Nietzche and Music, George Leibert puzzles through Nietzsche’s words, “Without music life would be an error.” He explores how the philosopher fluctuated between thinking two very different things about the purpose of music. “Music is a way of making life bearable – a beautiful refuge in a world otherwise ugly and hostile to human happiness.  Or it is, in itself, a powerful affirmation of life, in all its joys and sorrows,” affirms journalist Carson Holloway.

Today, we need both, and that’s where music steps in. Music is a beautiful refuge that comforts. And music affirms us, that we will be okay.

An article at melodyful.com, “How Does Music Affect the Brain?” touches on how helpful music can be as we sift through living more in isolation these next few weeks. “Problems like excessive worry, anxiety, or depression create a chaotic situation in the brain; it hampers its working power, reasoning ability, and execution of conventional tasks becomes difficult. It happens because of reduced levels of serotonin. Fifty million brain cells are affected by the levels of serotonin. Music effects a steep rise in the levels of serotonin, which has positive influences on brain cells controlling mood.”

As we consider the many aspects of COVID-19 we do not understand, we firmly hold onto what we do understand. We look across the ocean and ask what we can learn from those who are seeking comfort from one another as they suffer. As they hurt. As they seek hope.

How can we bring a gentle light to our own dark situation?

From the Italians, we can learn how music is helping people unify and offer comfort to one another. One way to bring light into this difficult time is to invite more music inside our homes.

As for my family, it looks like we are going to be home together for a very long time. Amidst the disagreements that are certain to crop up, we’re going to turn up the music. Sing loud. Host a few dance parties to use up our physical energy. Take some time get a few extra minutes of piano practicing in. Maybe make up our own lyrics to the music that’s already playing in our heads.

And if we get a little silly being together for too long (because who knows how long it will be?), you might find us leaning outside our windows, singing toward the streets, “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light?”

If it gets to that, feel free to open up your windows and join us.