The idea of music as something human bodies do has fallen to the margins as arts programs disappear from schools nationwide, while songs often arrive to us as tick birds riding discreetly on the backs of larger cultural phenomena—movies, video games, television, phones.
So there is something particularly profound about the idea that music could teach a newborn baby how to breathe, how to eat, how to exist. Music therapy, a growing field still in its nascence in the U.S., is one of the last remaining sanctums in the world where music serves this purpose, connecting us to the most basic human truths. Hearing your parents’ voices vibrating through the breastbone, lying on their chest and feeling the pulse of their heart—for most humans, this is the first music.
We store these sounds deep in our limbic system, our emotional brain where we register feelings and sensations. It is also where we store threats and deep terrors: If you are in a car accident, your neocortex will help you describe what happened to the cops, but your limbic system is where you keep the sound of the shrieking tires, the loud bang, and the crumpling of metal. It’s all mixed up there, along with your mother’s breath and your favorite song.