The Complex Role of Music in Emotional Expression and Communication

Last weekend, my husband took me to see the new Bob Marley film, "One Love," and I'm not gonna lie: it was so much more than I expected. Okay, sure. We all love a good autobiographical story of our favorite artists, and we all love a good tale of the underdog.

But what I wasn't expecting was leaving the cinema contemplating the multifaceted role of music in our lives. Far from being just an auditory experience, music serves as a profound medium for emotional expression and a bridge for human connection, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers. And while I've never been a huge reggae fan [sorry, Dad], growing up half my life in Fiji and listening to Bob Marley apparently impacted my life and career far more than I realized.

"When did you write that?" "All my life".

My journey with music, deeply intertwined with emotional expression, began in my childhood. My father, an avid Bob Marley enthusiast, and my mother, a counsellor, guitar player and gorgeous vocalist, introduced me to the nuanced ways in which music can convey a spectrum of basic emotions. My dad and I would often jam together whenever I was visiting him in Fiji, and we would sing classics like "Hotel California" [The Eagles], "Killing Me Softly" [The Fugees], and "I'm Yours" [Jason Mraz]. Somehow we would always end up singing Marley's tracks... songs I wasn't terribly familiar with, but he always sang with such passion.

Meanwhile, in my hometown of Raglan, New Zealand, music was also more than entertainment; it was a vehicle for social commentary and change. My mother became close friends with local musicians, including the legendary Midge Marsden, Ronnie Taylor and Ritchie Pickett, all of whom utilized their art to address pressing issues, showcasing music's potential to have a positive effect on public awareness and societal shifts.

It clearly impacted what I was writing and singing about... at age 10, I recorded and released my first single "Look Around" on a youth compilation album called "The Present". The song was all about social justice: poverty, injustice, and environmental awareness. I was hooked. In addition to using music to try and express myself in spite of my medical condition hydrocephalus [you can find out more about that here], music as expression was clearly my love language for every other issue that matters to me too.

From Hobby to Career

When I began teaching vocals at 17 in Hamilton, New Zealand, [my then-vocal teacher decided I'd outgrown her program, and set me up with my very own list of vocal clients: encouraging me to go forth and teach], I anticipated a focus on, well, just being another vocal teacher, really, with all of the technicalities of breathing, posture, and diaphragm support. However, the reality was that my students were more interested in learning how to express emotions through music. This realization highlighted the intrinsic connection between music and emotional intelligence, where music becomes a tool for individuals to explore and articulate their feelings.

I worked with a wide variety of clients from as young as 6 to as old as 65 [which, I realize isn't old, but for a fresh 17year old? Imposter syndrome was rather real], covering a range of genres from singing show tunes to Audioslave and The Mamas and The Papas. My private tuition business soon evolved into teaching at several performance institutes, running adult education classes, and even running an adult choir.

The transformative power of music became even more personal at 19, during a period of profound loss. That year, I lost my surrogate brother to a diabetes complication, my surrogate father to alcohol abuse, my ex-boyfriend to suicide, and my dog to a brain trauma.

It was an intense year of loss, trauma, and suppressing it all.

Until I decided on my 21st birthday that a change of scenery might be just what I needed.

Yep. On my 21st birthday I decided I'd outgrown the place I'd spent my teenaged years, and needed to move to "the big smoke" of Auckland, which is where I formed hard rock band: Static Era, and truly started learning about using music for emotional expression, specifically through writing songs like Dear Me.

Writing "Dear Me" was a therapeutic process, a way to navigate grief and offer a semblance of comfort to others. This experience underscored the dual nature of music's impact: its capacity to provide solace and its potential to evoke a wide range of emotions in listeners.

My subsequent work with the YMCA and at a tertiary institute in New Zealand further solidified my understanding of music's role in emotional and cognitive development. It was clear that engaging with music could significantly enhance one's emotional intelligence, providing a language for those who might struggle to express their emotions verbally.

Coming to America

I'm coming up to my 9th year in the States, and it's been a wild adventure. I started out working in Massachusetts and Connecticut working specifically in youth development, before moving to Washington DC in November of 2015: where I established myself as a full time street performer.

This led to an intense career of busking, gigging, recording, and touring [more on that in my upcoming book], but of course: 2020 put a damper on all of that. Thankfully, in 2019: I realized I needed to get back into youth development - specifically through music, which is how YES Youth Coaching became a thing.

Now, leading YES Youth Coaching, I am continually confronted with the harsh realities many young people face. Conversations about topics as grave as school shootings and domestic violence within the household, reveal the urgent need for outlets that allow for the safe expression of emotions. Music, in this context, offers a unique solace, enabling individuals to process and express their emotions in a constructive manner. It's a creative and safe way that I can combine my extensive skillset as an educator, youth-worker and musician to support Gen Z navigate 2024 and beyond.

The capacity of music to express emotions extends beyond personal catharsis; it fosters a shared emotional experience among listeners, and offers the songwriters and performers the opportunity to truly express themselves. The emotional expression in music, whether through poignant lyrics or evocative melodies, allows listeners to perceive music as a reflection of their own emotional journeys, creating a sense of universal connection.

However, the relationship between music, emotions, and listeners is complex. While music can be a powerful medium for expressing and evoking emotions, it's essential to approach it with a degree of emotional intelligence. Recognizing the potential for both positive and negative effects on one's emotional state is crucial. Music can uplift and heal, but it can also evoke painful memories or feelings.

Which is why having a coach and mentor can be crucial - to ensure that our budding songwriters have the ability to express emotions fully - but not dwell in the negative. Instead: use songwriting as a tool to identify, understand, express, and cognitively reframe disempowering thoughts and feelings into empowering ones.

In exploring the emotions music typically expresses, we delve into the heart of what it means to be human. Music, in its essence, is a form of self-expression that transcends words, offering a unique window into the emotional landscape of both the creator and the listener.

As we continue to navigate the intricate dance between music, emotions, and expression, it's important to remain mindful of the power this art form holds. Music is not just a backdrop to our lives; it's a vital tool for understanding, communicating, and connecting with the basic emotions that define our shared human experience.

From Bob Marley to me to you

Music and songwriting aren't just about creating tunes; they're powerful tools for expressing what's hard to say in plain words. Whether you're dealing with personal issues or want to make a statement on broader societal matters, turning your experiences into music can be a cathartic process. If you're curious about how to channel your thoughts and emotions into songs but aren't sure where to begin, consider reaching out.

Book a call with me here, and let's explore how you can transform your challenges into impactful music that helps you to identify, understand and express your emotions. After all, the punch that knocks you out is the one you don't see coming: so why not use music to help you actively identify your negative feelings so that they no longer lead to your brokenness.

There's a better way.

I can't wait to speak with you soon!

~ Emma G

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