In an article on The Conversation, David M. Greenberg and Ilanit Gordon highlight how one of the most encouraging phenomena in response to the social distancing measures imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak was the way people tried to stay in touch, and this also happened through music:
At the start of the lockdown in Italy, videos went viral on social media of neighbours singing with each other across their balconies. This trend also happened in Israel, Spain, Iraq, the US, France, Lebanon, India, Germany and other countries. And it wasn’t just balconies. People went to their rooftops, windows, and even online.
The two authors claim that bonding, being in connection with other human beings, is one of the fundamental characteristics of our species. The biological need that pushes us towards other people – a phenomenon we have already seen when talking about “skin hunger” – is evident in the stress we feel if we remain isolated: our social brain pushes us to connection.
To satisfy ourselves, however, this connection must be not only visual but also emotional:
This is where music comes in. We are all familiar with the phrase “music is food for the soul”, but it is also true that “music is food for the brain”.
When we form social bonds, when we are intimate with other people we produce oxytocin; some studies show that this hormone increases when we sing, especially with other people, while others argue that this also happens by merely listening to music:
Music dates back at least 40,000 years in human history. Evolutionary theories about the origins of music are many, but most emphasise its social role. This includes strengthening group cohesion in hunter-gatherer times and as a way of signalling shared values and strength within and between tribal groups.
And as of today, while we are not yet out of the emergency,
music shows no signs of slowing down, even in forced isolation. Music lies at the very essence of our humanity because it enables the level of social bonding that distinguishes us from other species. From lullabies sung from a parent to their infant, to mass jam sessions online, we can all turn to song to maintain our sanity, our hope, and our empathy toward one another.