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Lars Lilliestam

Listening to music is important för people's well-being. This point is emphasised by Lars Lilliestam, professor of musicology.
Lillestam has extensive experience of research on people's music listening and now he wants to investigate its wider health dimensions.

– When we listen to music, the entire human being is affected, physically and psychologically. Things happen in our brains, muscles and organs that in turn lead to both emotional and intellectual reactions – feelings, associations and thoughts. In brief, we not only feel, but also think things with the aid of music. We may be pondering over life, solving a problem or experiencing that we are not alone. Maybe we will receive confirmation that others share our feelings. A song can verbally express experiences and emotions in a way that we do not always manage ourselves. Or it may enable us to connect with deeper experiences and memories. With the aid of music we can create a sense of identity and seek answers to questions such as "who am I", "what do I think", "what do I believe in".
– It then also becomes interesting – not to say basic – as a researcher to investigate what people hear that gives them these experiences. What music? Which songs? Which structures in the music give cause to the various effects? I want to dig deeper into the issue by letting people talk a lot and at great length about music that they are moved by.

Does music influence public health?
– Yes, so it seems. But then we have to think of health, not as abscence of disease, but more in terms of well-being – being happy with one's life. Music therapy has of course been used clinically in health care with great success, but I am more interested in what we may call musical self-therapy i.e. how people use music in their everyday lives to influence their mood and state of mind, perk up, become depressed, grieve or relax. In one way or the other in order to feel better.
– Previously, my colleague Thomas Bossius and I have made in-depth interviews with 42 people on what they do with music within the project Musik i Människors Liv (Music In People's Lives). In the book Musiken och jag (Music and Me, 2011) we describe how the interviews show that people often are very conscious of what music does to them and what effects music have on them in particular. One chooses music with great deliberation – and it is important that you choose it yourself in order for it to be effective. People tend to experience music that has been more or less foisted upon them as disturbing and irritating.

Please tell me more about the connection between music listening and existential public health.
– Health can, as I mentioned, be many things. The World Health Organization's definition of spiritual health includes aspects such as a sense of context, meaningfullness, control and hope – i.e. that there is something worth living for. In broad terms it is about interpretation of life, questions about life and why one has become the person one is. Music is definitely a good tool for processsing such issues, even if it isn't necessarily so for all. People find various strategies to feel good or better: reading, watching movies, fishing, exercising, walking in the forest and so on.

So you are working with a new perspective on Swedish music research?
– There are not so many of us in Sweden who take an interest in these issues, but there are many more in Norway, Denmark, Finland, USA, England and Germany. The literature on culture and health and music and health is growing enormously from an international perspective. Psychologists, therapists, neurologists and brain researchers are investigating this – but for some reason few within the humanities and even fewer music researchers. But the Nordic research network MUCH (Music, Culture and Health) connects researchers with an interest in this type of issues and new networks are sprouting.
– I really believe that you have to work in a multidisciplinary way in order to understand the interplay between people and music from a health perspective. Not only are there many questions to which we have no satisfactory answers or that have not been investigated, but there are also many strange conceptions of music that complicate matters. Unproven yarns and miracle stories of music's miraculous effects also circulate within science. Trying to shed light on how the mechanisms work in a more systematic and nuanced way is complicated but important!

Personal facts

Position: professor of musicology
Age: 61 years
Family:
wife, three children who have moved out, a grandchild, a cat
Research interests: modern music history and what people do with music – and music with people. I want to start a new multidisciplinary project on music listening and health.
Driving force: curiosity, wonder and irriation at some things being described in a way that I do not believe is accurate.
Leisure interests: spending time with family and friends, listening to music, reading literature, sports, going to the gym, playing bridge, traveling, being in Berlin – I used to play guitar often, but I do not have time for it nowadays.

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2013-01-28]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 1/29/2013
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