But does it really?
I recently sat in on a music appreciation group run by an occupational therapy assistant as a consultant, on an in-patient mental health ward for women. A member of the group started out positively and beamed at everyone; "music makes you happy" extolling the power that it had to lift her mood and to make her feel good no matter how terrible she might have been feeling. Great. I mean, that's really great, no? Some in the room embraced her views with matched enthusiasm. One turned away from her and seemed to retreat inwards towards their own core. I wondered what some music might trigger for her?
When I was little my dad used to practice Bach's Preludes and Fugues on the piano that leaned against the other side of the wall to my bedroom. Now that he has been dead for some years this music brings feelings of such comfort and melancholy, all at once, like an embrace from someone you can't quite touch but whose presence you can almost feel. It doesn't just make me happy. It elicits a smorgasbord of emotions all at once, in turn making me need space and time to go into my own head to be able to process this deeply personal and subjective response.
Happiness and its pursuit has become big bucks for western society with self-help books, mindfulness apps, bigger, better, shinier appearances and assertion that these things contribute towards a happier self. Music can trigger all kinds of emotional and physiological reactions for people, happiness being just one in the myriad. Retailers play music specially chosen to be the optimum speed, volume and style to induce the consumer to spend more and stay longer. Some tube stations trialled piping in classical music to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. This example demonstrates that one person's delight can be another person's punishment. At its most extreme, music is used in C.I.A. torture techniques.
Some will say that neither Morrisey or depression are joking matters and I agree. However, it helpfully illustrates the idea that music can make us feel something other than happy. Recently there was a suggestion in a Professional Standards Authority (PSA) consultation - Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation (January 2018) - that some professions cease to be statutorily regulated. This made the various Arts Therapies professions alert to the possibility that we might be among these. It would not have been the first time that others might not have understood the importance of regulation of Arts Therapies, perhaps due to the thought that the arts are warm and fuzzy, creative and happy-making, and could do no harm. These suppositions exist in the minds of many and illustrate a lack of basic understanding for the arts, the arts therapies and for the differences between good practice and dangerous practice in therapy. Misuse or misunderstanding of the arts in a therapeutic setting can cause great harm. Music doesn't just make us happy. Far from it.
Later on in the group session I mentioned before, a piece of music had been chosen and was playing. Someone began to cry. The music was reminding them of something or someone. They didn't want it to be turned off. Another person leaned forward and held their hand as they cried. In reflection together afterwards the message - "music makes you happy" - had transitioned to "music is so powerful". It felt like an important shift for the group and speaks to the core of the matter I'm discussing. Music is powerful and can trigger or support the gamut of human emotional and physiological experiences. It isn't just about making us happy. "Music is part of being human" (Sacks, 2007).