The Healing Power of Music: The Bipolar Question of the Week

John McManamy Health Guide
  • A substantial portion of my Questions of the Week are devoted to music. This is no mere personal conceit. Music plays a vital role in healing and in bringing us together. It is one of the most important things in my life. I have no TV or radio, but my iTunes is a national treasure. Moreover, I spend about an hour a day playing a musical instrument (the didgeridoo).


    In a little while I will be headed out the door to hear Mahler’s Symphony #5 performed by the San Diego Symphony. Mahler’s music comes across as strange and impenetrable to the uninitiated. The strangeness never goes away - the initiated tend to fall in love with it. 

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    Mahler described himself as three times homeless, a Bohemian in Austria, an Austrian among Germans, and a Jew throughout the world. He lived during a time when Europeans felt smug about their achievements, just before the first World War was about to impose a severe reality check. I describe Mahler as the man who saw it coming. His music seems to tell us we should never be too comfortable with how life is going at the moment, that things have a way of changing.


    Indeed, the opening to his Symphony #5 got appropriated as the theme in BBC’s classic “Fall of the Eagles” (detailing the collapse of three Empires just prior to World War I). The slow movement was used in the movie “Death in Venice.”


    Mahler had a stormy marriage to a woman much younger, and none other than Freud was his marriage counselor. Oh, and he lived with bipolar, as if you hadn’t already guessed. Feeling high as a kite one minute, lower than a limbo pole the next. But mood is hardly either-or. Mahler has a unique way of expressing what can only be described as painful joy or joyous pain. As I said - strange.


    And oh how I love it. The Fifth is one of my favorites. It takes me to wonderful (and indeed strange) places. I am really looking forward to this.


    Question: A favorite composer or performer or genre of yours - tell us more. How has it affected your life?


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Published On: November 04, 2012