Music is as essential to life as the air we breath. Its magnificent presence is all encompassing, remaining an essential conduit for meaning and emotion. The songs we sing, their words and meanings resonate as part of our very essence. We feel the music as it holds sway over the moods, hormones, and the emotions governing us. In so doing, music is able to enhance our joyful moments at the same time as moderating the more trying ones.
One of the more trying periods involved the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. But as we shall see, music has played a central role in mitigating the difficulties that have, in part, defined the fishery. Despite the challenges, music has been able to subtly diminish the sharpness of these times, ensuring people are left with an element of hope.
Music and Our Bodies
One of its greatest attributes of music is the ability to bring people together. We are united by the words and sounds, together forging a collective identity. As humans, we’re hardwired for music. Biologically, our bodies contribute, with the power of music releasing oxytocin, a hormone possessed of a calming effect. When we close our eyes and sway to the music, our bodies are biologically responding to what we’re hearing. Thus, it enhances the experience.
The body helps to accomplish union with the release of endorphins accompanying the active performance of music. Endorphins are a hormone linked to pain and stress. The feeling is the neurochemical effect of song and dance is similar to social grooming, a practice associated with community bonding. Song and dance achieve the same. There is more work to be done, but we do know music appears to have an effect.
Listening to the music, holding hands or moving our bodies in unison helps to physically coordinate our actions. And in so doing, it reflects a strong sense of community, something listeners will inevitably link to the music.
Music is all about vibration. It’s believed those vibrations and the energy they emit not only give us sound, they are also capable of affecting our brain waves. Known as “sound healing” and given our bodies are 75% water, a great conductor for sound vibration, music can lower stress, reduce our mood swings, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep.
Meanwhile, other hormones also play a role. Cortisol is our built-in alarm system and functions as our body’s primary stress hormone. While the research is ongoing, scientists have found that music possesses stress-reducing effects. It’s entirely possible the release of cortisol may play a role in sound healing.
The music is then able to dampen stress induced by lament, anger or frustration, sentiments that reined in Newfoundland and Labrador, during the troubling times surrounding the fishery. Equally and beautifully, the music also gave voice to the frustrations, anger and confusion dominating the period. Music provided the critical cohesion needed when individuals and communities, alike, sought to moor their broken and tattered spirits.
Music’s Role in the Fishery
Over the years, fishing has experienced its share of difficulties and challenges. The struggles of fish harvesters stem back to the migratory fishery. It was their hard labour for very little return that defined the arrangement. By the 1950s and 1970s, resettlement disrupted numerous lives. This was a government, top-down initiative to move communities to places considered to be of more economic esteem. A more recent upheaval came with the moratorium of 1992, a debacle in which there were many to share blame. But as always, government can raise its hand and claim a significant portion of that blame.
Throughout the hardship and sorrow, music has played a vital role in bringing to life the heartfelt memories bound to the fishery. It spoke to celebrate the women and men who have given their lives, their heart and soul to the fishery. Music also helped give voice to the politics and foul machinations that shrouded the times. The music evokes images of weary and calloused hands strenuously working on the sea. At other times, the music brings to life a proud people who will never bow. Music is magically able to rally spirits, bind communities, and shore up hope.
Ballads in Newfoundland
In the troubled history of the fishery or during resettlement in Newfoundland, there are no doubt many songs like “Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary’s” that admirably function in this manner. Like “Pad’s Song,” their gentle poignancy would rarely leave a dry eye. Their lament is for another time, something that is palpable in their lyrics and the roving melody.
To every listener, these ballads sit against a backdrop defined by a recognition the routines and rituals celebrated in the words and music are slipping away. Both of the tempo and the lilting melody of the ballads add to the deeply felt ache they elicit.
Certain ballads such as “Seagulls Still Follow on Freedom” and “Government Game”strongly appeal to one’s heart. Although, at the same time, they offer a cutting critique of the social and political conditions surrounding the fishery. They’re able to to both calm spirits in resignation, while enrage at the same time.
In both ballads, the music provides musicians and listeners alike with an opportunity to express certain emotions such as lament, loss and frustration. In doing so, they ironically enhance feelings of betrayal, anger and distress. At the same, the ballads chime with beliefs that are upheld and shared, such as a healthy distrust of the government. Thus, the music can only strengthen the bonds holding people together. People may sing along or listen and nod, looking at one another, knowing every word in the ballads to be sadly true.
“The Land God Gave to Cain” turns its attention to the First Nations groups. Yet again, the message is again a recognition of the inequities that have always ordered the world. The words and rhythm utter a lament for what’s been lost. And every repeating stanza is a reflection of the ongoing battle that defines the struggle.
Towards the Sunrise
Finally, “Towards the Sunset” is a rousing shanty that encapsulates all that has been lost. There are fond memories of places and times all who are listening will be able to warmly recall. It hearkens to the past yet, it is all cast in a light beckoning listeners to the future. All is not lost. This is not a ballad to emphasise what is lost. Rather than being towards the sunset, it is more an urging towards the sunrise.
This is the power and potency of music. As we listen, the style, rhythm, and melody are able to raise a laugh or a wry smile, sometimes a look of worry. Not to worry.Throughout our journeys in the world of music, we will always be able to mend both our body and mind.