Despite my love of music, I grew up in a house where listening to any kind of music was not routine. My parents did not have an extensive selection of music from the fifties and sixties. As regards classical music - there was absolutely no reference. They had never been exposed to the beauty of music and its ability to express emotions, so as children we relied on school for our classical music education.
At Primary School, I was enthralled by Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. It was a revelation to my creative mind that music, as well as words could tell stories and I loved the fact that I could follow the characters through their adventure as each instrument became identifiable.
At University I was finally exposed to the joys and intricacies of the classical canon. It helped that two of my closest friends were professional musicians, one had been trained at Wells, then the Royal Northern and continued to earn a living as a harpist both in orchestras and as a soloist. I often accompanied her to her concerts as a kind of 'roadie' helping her to unload her 'big harp' (technical term!). As I experienced live music, I was exposed to an emotional depth in music that popular music, which I equally love, can only dream about reaching. One of my musician friends tried to explain the technical reasons why particular phrases and cadences appealed to me. I really didn't care - what mattered to me in my late teens and early twenties was that there was a form of music which was capable to reflecting the waves and crashes of my internal life at the time.
I find it fascinating that during the period (some eight years) when I found myself feeling nothing but numbness, I could not tolerate listening to any classical music.
As I have moved through treatment into recovery, I have 'rediscovered' my love of classical music. I have used some pieces to help me manage waves of emotion through mindfulness exercises. Unlike pop music which may have one or two emotional notes in a three minute period, most classical music moves through nuances of tone, and uses dynamics, like waves to build to a crescendo before receding into quieter periods. One of my favourite pieces to use in mindfulness is by Rachmaninov and it lasts 17 minutes. That is a good period of time in which to manage many of my emotional waves. So here are some rediscovered gems which have helped me to use my DBT skills recently.
This is my current classical playlist:
1) Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major - Prelude. This is a good starter because it will be familiar from ads etc and features, as stated one solo instrument and therefore one simple melody to focus on. For some people listening to classical music can seem daunting perhaps because of the number of instruments and the different, sometimes competing melodies and counter melodies.
2) Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 in E Minor - Adagio. This is my current favourite for practising mindfulness 'in the moment' and 'emotion' and 'thought' diffusion exercises. It has a very strong, emotive central theme which recurs right at the end - in the meantime the rise and fall of the melody can be used to track my emotions, as they build up and fade away. I was getting annoyed with my parents on a long car journey recently and successfully used this piece of music to focus on my breathing and let go of my angry feelings. Incredibly soothing.
3) G F Handel - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Just really enjoyable and uplifting.
4) Vivaldi - Concerto for Violin and Strings - The Four Seasons - Winter. This is a piece of music which allows you to imagine winter creeping up. I defy you not to be able to imagine ice creeping up on winter as you listen. The final movement reproduces stamping feet, ice skating and the impact of the creeping ice on both man and nature - love it!
5) Faure Requiem - In Paradisum. Amazingly soothing calming.
6) G F Handel - Zadok the Priest. I recently was delayed on a plane flight and was 'participating' so much on this piece of music that I forgot I was standing in a line waiting to be 'herded' onto my EasyJet flight - until I opened my eyes and found several people staring at me. It was the epitome of mindful 'participation'.
This is a relatively short list, but if I don't set a limit I could keep going for a very, very long time.... I am absolutely certain many others reading this will have their own favourite classical pieces that are helpful in managing emotions.