We all know intuitively that music can help calm and energize us. But what's the science behind that, and how can we best use music to achieve wellness of mind, body and spirit? ASCAP composer David Ari Leon (The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes; Contre Jour) sought to answer those questions when he co-founded Voice of Life, an organization dedicated to exploring music as medicine - and uncover the healing power of music. We spoke with Leon about the creation and intent of the debut album from Voice of Life.
Can you give a little bit of background on the science behind music and wellness, and talk about how the album builds on that?
New advances in science like fMRI brain scan technology are giving us a lot of new information on how music affects our minds and our biochemistry. For example, beat induction is measured in the brain, showing that our minds automatically follow along with steady rhythms - even in the brains of two-day-old babies! We are wired to move and synchronize movements (i.e. dance) to music. Every known culture has this activity.
Many examples exist in the science of songs, actually. One more example is that when we sing in groups, our bodies release oxytocin, which is a biochemical that women with newborn babies have a lot of in their systems. It makes us feel bonded and connected. I gave a TEDx talk in Malibu on December 2nd where I went deeper into this topic.
What was this album designed to do?
Voice of Life, the album, harnesses musical engagement and participation, specifically the use of voice, to tap into the health benefits of meditation and chant. It pulls from different traditions that use music for grounding and connecting and offers the benefits of the traditions in an easy way with modern music that sounds like what our culture is familiar with. Ultimately, it gives a path for people to drop into a meditative state in a way that is demystified and simple. This leads to decreased stress which has myriad health benefits.
How does your creative process change when it's aimed at a goal (e.g. healing or vocal empowerment) other than entertainment or aesthetic experiences?
We wanted to incorporate the drone-based component of Indian classical music. It has been used to evoke a deep mind-state for ages. The big challenge was that we wanted modern-sounding music with chord progressions that Western culture likes. These two elements fought each other - having a single constant note limits what can be done harmonically and still sound good. So we had to hone an approach to accomplish a whole album with this direction. Once we got over that hurdle, the process was mostly like what I typically do...finding the right feel, instruments, sounds, etc.
How can a musician use his or her own music for healing?
First, the mood and intention of the musician gets conveyed, so setting out to make the music healing is a good first step. There are great resources out there about music for healing, including the field of music therapy, great books by authors such as Oliver Sacks and Mitchell Gaynor, and great documentaries such as Music Instinct on PBS and Music and Memory on Nova.
Voice of Life was released on December 11th, 2012. Find out more at voiceoflifemusic.com.
David Ari Leon is a multiple award-winning and Emmy-nominated composer and music supervisor who has brought his signature blend of acute classical expertise and emotive pop ethos to countless films, video games, albums and TV shows. He's also raising mobile game music to new heights with his immensely popular music. Recently, he scored Universal's Woody Woodpecker, named iPhone Game of the Week, and Electronic Arts' Contre Jour, the No. 1 selling game app in iTunes, and iPad Game of the Year in more than 10 countries by Apple.
In 1995, inspired by his long time desire to use music to elevate wellness, Leon studied music therapy. He did fieldwork with groups including developmentally disabled children, seniors and mental health patients. He began working with Peter Wolff on the Voice of Life project to bring the use of music to elevate wellness into broad usage and acceptance.
Find out more about David Ari Leon at www.soundmindmusic.com.