Music and healing
Three vocalists discover the effect of music on the human experience.
When Michaela Larsen agreed to participate in an event related to MSU’s “It’s On Us” Week of Action last October, she hadn’t anticipated it would forever change her view on the power and purpose of music.
As a vocal artist and music education major in the College of Music, Larsen perceived music primarily as a form of self-expression. But after performing in “Music and Healing” in conjunction with the MSU Museum’s “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak,” Larsen discovered music’s ability to heal and to empower.
“The event caused me to deeply reflect as I searched for a piece to perform that exemplified women supporting one another,” said Larsen about her repertoire. “I think I will be putting as much thought into my next performance as I did into this event, and to find compositions that represent women’s real experiences.”
Larsen was among three students participating in the event on the urging of Marcie Ray, an assistant professor of musicology at MSU whose courses focus on issues of gender, class and sexuality in music. Ray said the "Music and Healing" event provided performers and audience members a chance to experience the intersection of their emotions and music, as well as a safe, intimate space to explore the role of music in trauma recovery. She added the event also helped students connect with issues in the community—something she encourages throughout her teaching.
“This experience, in particular, was a flashpoint,” Ray said. “It provided a way students could think of how they can actually help people through their music, rather than just entertain. It gave them a strong moral purpose for their music.”
Giving voice to issues
Ashley Wright, one of the three students who performed in the music and healing event, initially met Ray during a required course in musical history. Wright, who is working toward her bachelor’s degree in music education, enjoyed the class so much that she took Ray’s class on music, gender and sexuality, building on her interests in women’s rights and issues.
Wright said that music has often helped her make sense of things during challenging times. Participating in the event became a way she could give back, as well as help make a difference in someone’s life. She performed as both a soloist and as part of a small choral group she organized.
“I figured if I could bring a song or two that could uplift people who needed it, then I would feel like I contributed something positive to the culture,” Wright said. “The more involved I got, the more I knew I was in the right place doing the right thing.”
Wright said the experience, along with what she’s learned through musicology courses, will influence her approach in future classrooms. Christine Roberts feels a similar way.
As a doctoral student in vocal performance, Roberts aspires to teach and work in academia. She said taking Ray’s musicology class and participating in the music and healing event opened her eyes to the role music plays in nurturing and shaping the human experience.
“It was definitely inspiring,” said Roberts. “My hope is to be involved with or even help organize more events that help promote healing through music.”
Ray, who regularly encourages her students to actively use their music skills and artistry through events and outreach to organizations, concurred that the event was a formative experience for her three students. She said the paradigm of selecting music based on audience needs was different from preparing repertoire for recitals, and it caused students to reflect on how music and its presentation shapes thought and experience.
“Events like these can help students synthesize concepts learned in class,” Ray said. “Even more, it helps them make sense of who they are as musicians and how they respect and respond to audience wishes.”
The “Music and Healing” event on October 17, 2019, was co-sponsored by Survivor Strong, the MSU Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence, MSU Center for Gender in Global Context, MSU Center for Survivors, MSU College of Music, and MSU African Studies Center. In addition to the three students from Ray’s classes, the event featured a performance by sister survivor Amanda Cormier, music therapist Bob Huffman, and GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter Isaac Kalumbu.