THE news is grim.
But when - unless Andy Murray is winning Wimbledon and the like - is it otherwise? The first word I seem to hear every morning is "Syria" followed by a catalogue of casualties. Meanwhile politicians around the globe are considering what to do. Some insist they will do nothing; others hint that they are capable of doing something though they are not sure what. Here they are shouting in unparliamentary language at one another, confirming they are no better than the Saturday afternoon barbarians.
In the past I would have continued listening as if hypnotised. For better or worse I am a news junkie. I have a radio in every room, often tuned to different stations lest I am missing anything of significance. Which, I concede, is rare. Of late, however, I have decided that enough is enough. When I can take no more bickering between our tribunes, when the last word has been wrung out of a pundit who is no more of an expert than I am, I stick on some music.
The transformation is dramatic. My mood changes and my attitude to the day ahead brightens. I imagine that the addicts queuing for their daily fix of methadone outside our local chemist feel the same. They know that within the space of a few interminable minutes life will take on a warmer hue. Out of the speaker pours Springsteen or Sinatra, Pavarotti or Purcell, and I am reborn.
It reminds me of the effect of the Coca-Cola my son once drank in Italy. One minute he looked like he was withering in the blistering heat, the next he was blooming like one of Van Gogh's sunflowers.
My own unscientific findings, I am pleased to report, have been confirmed by the European Society of Cardiologists which, at a confab in Amsterdam, has been told that listening to music can not only gladden the heart, it can strengthen it. A study by Serbian researchers of patients with cardiac disease has shown that simply listening to music can materially improve your health.
Patients were divided into three groups. Some were enrolled in exercise classes for three weeks; others were put in the same classes, but told to listen to music of their choice for 30 minutes a day; while yet others listened only to music and were instructed not to exercise. All showed some improvement in their condition. But those who exercised and listened to music "boosted crucial measures of heart function significantly".
This is cheering, not least because no drugs were involved. All you must do to feel a whole lot better, it would appear, is move about a bit and listen to familiar sounds. Key, too, is the kind of music you put on. Ideally, it should be instrumental because the wrong kind of lyrics could have the opposite effect of what you are after. Similarly, it must be music that you like, tunes, say, that you would put on a playlist. Some kinds of music, however, are likely to be more beneficial than others. Heavy metal, say the researchers, is not ideal for this purpose, which I could have told you myself. My instant reaction on hearing Black Sabbath and their ilk strike up is similar to that of the bloke in Munch's Scream. Having said that, I do experience a surge of well-being whenever the plug's pulled on them.
The implications of these findings could be profound. On several occasions recently I have witnessed the positive power of music. At Hazelwood School in Glasgow I saw the joy that playing and listening to music can have on youngsters who are severely disabled. Last week at the Edinburgh Festival I stood at the Mound while three young buskers - a drummer, guitarist and bagpiper - wowed the crowd with their hyperactive version of Scotland the Brave, inciting dancing in the street. Suddenly the world felt a better and happier place and I went on my way rejoicing.
There will be those who pooh-pooh these revelations, who say that music is no more efficacious than snake oil. Fair enough. But where's the harm in it? I know of a library in Copenhagen where at lunchtime every day they play music for a few minutes. It can be calming or energising; it could be blues, jazz, rock or classical. It all goes down a treat.
Perhaps they should adopt the idea in parliament.
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