What do Prokofiev and Shawn Achor have in common? Upon first notice, one might think nothing. but when you listen to the music of Prokofiev you feel the joy and warmth. According to Michael Langham, Harpist with the Oakland Civic Orchestra, Prokofiev “conceived Symphony No. 5 in Bb Major, Op. 100 as a hymn to optimism and positive thinking; happy to be a human being and close to our roots and close to nature The joy of life bursts forth … ”
Shawn Achor also has focused his life work on optimism and positive thinking, teaching that we can become the masters of our own emotional destiny. Achor teachers that if we simply think about three things to be grateful for on a daily basis, we can re-program our brains to be happier, within a few weeks.
Recently I had the good fortune of finding myself at a community performance of the aforementioned Oakland (CA) Civic Orchestra. As soon as the Prokofiev piece began, I closed my eyes and began to feel the joy permeating my being from the music.
Listening to music, as well as playing music, can be immensely therapeutic. The brain releases the happy chemical, dopamine so that one can actually feel the sound waves in their body. The sound waves actually travel to your body and you “feel” the music, viscerally. Dopamine is flooded into your body from the brain.
How does this work? According to a June 9, 2013 article in the New York Times , when pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum – an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well – which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is specifically targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.
When you experience an emotion while listening to music, ancient reward circuits are flooding your brain to make you feel good.
What better way to overcome the negative feelings of stress than to listen to some endearing music, especially that of Prokofiev or some of the other great masters, such as Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Chopin, or Beethoven. I would say my favorite Prokofiev piece is Romeo & Juliet , the ballet which, I attended many times in my life as a young, hopeful ballerina and later, as a pure lover of ballet and the music it brings to the theater. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake , is another favorite, of course.
So the next time you find yourself overly stressed, find some chamber music, perhaps on iTunes or YouTube and sit back, relax, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let the dopamine flow. What a high, and a natural one at that!
As the sounds emanate from all the various orchestra sections: string, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, the vibrations reach out and touch your heart and your soul. You can not help but feel better after just 10 or 20 minutes, not to mention a full hour.