Guest Post: The Positive Effect of Music by Ruby Leigh-Smith

To understand the positive effects of music, we have to understand that music – the kind of music that defines who and what we are – is not usually found until we’re in our teens, or even later in life, because we are still growing into ourselves, defining and redefining who we will be.

Music is part of what defines us as we go through life, marking every stage.

That’s what I love so much about music. Everybody has an individual taste, and arguably, no two music fans playlists will be the same.

As soon as we discover our own music, we are free to become who we want to be. To me at least, music creates you, and moulds you.

When I was fourteen, I was going through some personal stuff, and I felt like nothing would ever be right in the world again. But it was actually my best friend at the time who got me into music properly. I owe her my love of it.

She told me about bands that would be classed by most people as ‘emo’, but to me, they were life saving – metaphorically, anyway.

From My Chemical Romance to Fall Out Boy, I managed to feel better than before when I listened to their music. I had found something that, to me at least, seemed exclusive.

I felt I was the only person in the world who listened to the music. It spoke to me, and loved it. Of course I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter to me in that moment when I discovered it.

As time went on, I found my second greatest love – concerts. Live music is something else entirely. The aura that is exuded at a concert lifts me up, and has continued to do since 2018 when I went to my first concert, Fall Out Boy at the O2 Arena in London.

Since then, I have been to over eighteen live shows, and one festival.

Over the years, a lot of research has been done into the positive effects of music.

A recent study found that 60% of children between the ages of 4 and 6 had increased vocabulary performance after taking just one month of weekly music lessons. A team of McGill scientists examined over 400 research papers, and they found that music decreases stress and anxiety and increases immune system functions.

This got me thinking about everything that music does that you might not even be aware of.

I have high functioning autism, so music often calms me down, and allows me to focus, or separate myself from the world when it all gets too much.

When you find artists or groups that you identify with so strongly that you can imagine they’re beside you in your darkest and lightest moments, then you have found friends for life.

You’re never alone as long as you have chords, rhythm, lyrics and a song that speaks to you.

Music is a form of escapism.

It has a positive impact on your brain, making you feel better when you feel that things couldn’t be worse, or lifting you up when you’re feeling a bit lost in the world.

Music has also been proven to help with studying. I used to change the lyrics to songs to fit with my school revision.

I changed Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ to ‘Fat Bottomed Physics’ and crammed GCSE physics equations in there – and let me tell you, humming that song under your breath in an exam room might look strange, but it works.

Many people find it beneficial listening to music at the same time as studying or reading.

Blocking out background noise with something that you listen to regularly can really help you concentrate on what you are reading or writing.

Additionally, and perhaps the most important point, is that music helps you find where you fit in. It helps you find people to identify with who listen to the same music as you or idolise the same musicians. Those friendships help you find new artists or genres of music that you might not have listened to before.

Making friends is hard for many people, but music makes it just that little bit easier to connect with those that understand you.

From making friends and helping you express yourself, to picking you up when you’re feeling down, music is like coming home to a hot cup of tea after a long day. It will leave you feeling so much happier when you’re feeling sad.

Music has done so much for me since the day I first listened to My Chemical Romance back in 2018. I’ve changed as a person because of it.

Over the last few years, I’ve started listening to other genres of music. I idolise the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership of The Beatles, and next year I will be seeing Queen + Adam Lambert in concert.

Music is a big part of my life. I have my own blog inspired by my love of music, and this have brought me a lot of opportunities.

I have even reviewed the books of people such as Sir Paul McCartney, and interviewed The Boomtown Rats bassist, Pete Briquette.

These names might not mean a lot to some, but these are people who have inspired so many musicians which we listen to today, like Kanye West (Kanye, Sir Paul McCartney and Rihanna released a song in 2015, link here).

Even musicians like Oasis, The Foo Fighters, and Bruce Springsteen have cited artists such as The Beatles as their inspirations. Without those who came before, we would not have artists like Cardi-B, Taylor Swift, or Porter Robinson. Music would not be what it is right now.

The positive effects of music are never ending.

It’s an expression of who we are and who we want to become, and I certainly wouldn’t be who I am without the soundtrack to my life.

Ruby Leigh-Smith is an aspiring journalist, writer, and a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller activist. She writes about music and books. You can read more of her work here: https://music-devotees6.webnode.com/

‘How do I become a journalist without a degree?’

I was fifteen when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I bloody loved the news. I would wake up at 5:30 most mornings to watch it with my dad before school. I also had a fascination for documentaries. Louis Theroux was my icon and I longed to tell stories the way he did it, with empathy and curiosity for everyone he spoke to. It was my mum who taught me that everyone has a story. Since becoming a journalist, no truer word has been said. My passion is for story-telling and for people. 

I didn’t know if I was ever going to get here. I wasn’t traditionally academic in school and I don’t think many of my teachers thought I’d make anything of myself. I was the quiet and slightly strange girl at the back of the classroom who’d rather daydream whilst looking out of the window than read another chapter of ‘An Inspector Calls’.

The truth is, I didn’t really ‘fit in’. I wasn’t even one of those teenagers who’d say they were ‘misfits’ but were actually really cool and mysterious with their box-dyed hair and facial piercings. I was actually painfully uncool.

I wasn’t smart enough to hang out with the nerds and I wasn’t bad enough to hang out with the rebellious kids. I was a wallflower, and not of my own choosing. I’d learned it was better to keep quiet and be ‘undetectable’ as not to draw too much attention. Children can be cruel sometimes and I learned the hard way in middle school. 

I didn’t do well in my GCSEs. Unfortunately, my high school would often nurture highly gifted children. You know, the ones who were going to sail through their exams regardless of how many extra hours of tuition they received in after school club.

Children like me were encouraged less and so, we spent much of our school years wondering if we were actually any good at anything or if we had talents at all.

I scraped just enough passes to go to the sixth form, and although it was a bit more independent in comparison to school, it still felt like I was in the same system, my knowledge, and understanding of the world questioned in an exam hall, compared against hundreds of other young people who didn’t learn the same way I did. 

I was quite disruptive and argumentative during my first year of A levels. My teachers would often write home with words of warning, informing my parents that I had a bad attitude to learning or was too opinionated during classes. I was actually just finding my voice after years of feeling unconfident and awkward, blending into the background.

And surprise, I failed my A Levels. At that point, I’d written myself off as being awful at exams. Nobody has encouraged me to be better. I didn’t consider myself to be academic or ‘smart’. I just couldn’t do it, or so I thought.

Looking back, it was actually a blessing in disguise. I started searching for journalism courses in local colleges, still determined to get to where I wanted to be. I found a creative media course which offered journalism as a unit. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about education. This was probably the first time I remember a teacher seeing real potential in me (apart from my Maths teacher Mr. Coleman from middle school and my form tutor Mrs.Ewing who were both proper Gs). I felt like I’d finally found something I was really good at. I felt like I had a purpose. 

In those two years, I was inspired to learn about the industry and encouraged to achieve more than I’d thought myself capable of. I still remember the day my tutor turned to me and said; “Georgia, if anyone can do it, you can” (Big up Jonathan). I still think about that moment when I’m full of doubt and imposter syndrome creeps in like some shadowy menace hanging over my shoulder. I learned a lot from that place. I learned to film productions and take professional photos. I learned to write and script articles. I even became one of the editors for the college magazine. It wasn’t long before I was being encouraged to apply for universities and take the next step, an option I thought I’d never have when I looked at those A-Level exam results the previous year. 

Sadly, in my last few months of college, the worst thing happened. My younger brother Elliot died suddenly and unexpectedly. It tore my life apart in an instant. Everything took a back seat and I didn’t know if I’d survive the year, let alone go to university.

Although I’d passed my college course with the grades I needed to get into Salford, my chosen university, I wasn’t in the right mindset to live away from home. I could barely get on a bus without having a panic attack at this point.

In hindsight, I should have taken a year out but I felt a pressure to go, thinking it was what people expected of me. I had it in my head it was the only way I could become a journalist.

I pushed myself on to a course at a local university so I could still live at home and be near my family. The course hours were sporadic and the entire experience was lonely as most of the people on my course had met during freshers week or lived on campus, so had seen each other around. It felt like school all over again. I needed routine, support, and stability. I also needed to be around people, to talk to other human beings on a regular basis.

I dropped out of the course a few months later and I felt like such a failure. I’d been placing all my hopes for the future on this one opportunity, and it had come crashing down on my head like a tonne of bricks. I felt my vision for the future slip from my grasp and felt I had to let it go. I was never going to become a journalist without a degree.

The next year or so, I got some odd jobs doing social media marketing for small, local businesses, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long term. It was all about the money and the creativity was limited. During that time I decided I didn’t want to give up on becoming a journalist. I set up this small blog, writing a few articles on a weekly basis which focused on mental health, grief, and wellbeing. 

It wasn’t long before I was writing articles for Huffington Post and my blog posts were picked up by local newspapers and eventually, the local BBC radio station Three Counties. The lunchtime presenter, Nick Coffer, invited me for an interview on his show to talk about my writing as well as my experience with grief. Whilst I was there, he encouraged me to sign up for work experience. Nick could see I was knowledgable and passionate about the local community, so he put me in touch with the news editor who told me how to apply online. 

I spent two weeks at the radio station in 2016, getting to know the newsroom and the different teams on the shows and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the door. I knew this was where I belonged.

After my two weeks had come to an end, I was told I should sign up to the freelance pool as a Broadcast Assistant as it was nearing the summer holidays and lots of the staff needed cover. I freelanced for a few months, working as a BA on the afternoon and mid-morning shows.

Whilst I was there, the BBC’s Digital Journalist Apprenticeship was advertised. It meant I could get my journalism qualification and train with the BBC. I submitted my application knowing hundreds of people would be applying for the same opportunity, but I wanted it so badly I was willing to work my ass off to get there. I became a dog with a bone I wasn’t going to let go. I was going to do it all off my own back, no matter what.

I remember the day I got one of the seven places available. After the phone call, I asked myself ‘is this really happening? Am I really going to get a job working for the BBC?’. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment and it seemed a long way from the memory of thinking I’d have to say goodbye to the career I’d always hoped for. I’d somehow overcome the obstacles.

I trained up for 22 months in local radio, studying for my NCTJ exams (the ones I thought I could never do) and got a gold standard certificate at the end of my course. During that time I made hours of digital and radio content, learning from some of the best journalists in the industry who taught me so much and supported me through my studies. My confidence grew. I went from someone who couldn’t leave the house to traveling around the country and interviewing strangers on the street about their lucky pants.

Since then, I’ve worked for Radio 4’s Today programme, getting a daily podcast commissioned as well as reporting and producing episodes for the award-nominated Beyond Today. I’m currently a producer on a BBC News podcast for youth audiences, and I work in London, a statement I never thought I’d say a few years ago.

I’m from a working-class background. I went to a mainstream comprehensive school. I wasn’t privately educated and none of my family were either. I didn’t know if journalism was for people like me, but it is. The industry needs people like us, people who can speak for working-class communities and shine a light on issues which are sometimes overlooked. It needs people who come from deprived areas or places with a bad press because we have the ability to change perceptions, to gain people’s trust and tell their stories. We grew up in those communities. 

So, if you’re reading this and you want to become a journalist, don’t give up because you think it ‘isn’t for you’. Don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be here or it’s too late to try. As long as you’re passionate and determined to get there, you’ll succeed. 

Don’t get me wrong, some days I still doubt myself and wonder if I’m good enough, but doesn’t everyone? I just have to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Just remember, you’ve got this!

Losing my brother: Five years on

Time feels like a strange concept when you’re grieving.

It feels fleeting, brief and sudden, like you’re racing against an hourglass, watching each grain of sand as it trickles away. And yet in some moments, it feels like an eternity.

I was only ever aware of this after my brother died.

In the early days of my grief, it was about surviving. It was about getting through a single day without collapsing from the weight of sheer panic and despair. It was all about trying to see that little glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and distant tunnel. You wonder how you’ll ever get through it.

Then time starts to feel like a large predator, grabbing at your ankles as you feel yourself slipping behind. You become more aware of the value of life when you lose someone you love. You realise the fragility of life and how every moment counts. There’s a pressure behind those thoughts that nobody seems to recognise until grief touches their family.

You feel like you owe it to your sibling to live your life to the fullest, to do all the things they wouldn’t do, to live in the moment and seize every opportunity that comes your way.

Last May marked five years since my brother died. It was the first anniversary where I had realised just how quickly the past few years had gone.

Most of those early years I don’t remember. Every once in a while, whilst I’m laying on bed struggling to go to sleep, a moment will flash by like a passing train. Inevitably it’s a haunting memory, the look on my brother’s face before he collapsed or the moment he was stretchered out from the back of an ambulance. But sometimes it’s a comforting memory. A simple, yet happy time when we were blissfully unaware of the pain that would consume our safe haven.

In December I turned 25. In the grand scheme of things, it rather an insignificant age. It’s not a milestone. Nobody gets a big birthday party or a special tacky glass or teddy bear to commemorate it, and yet for some reason I felt sheer panic in the pit of my stomach. It was like I’d woken up and noticed I’d slept in for too long. Five years had passed without my brother being alive.

You can’t blame people for moving on with their lives. I understand. But it doesn’t stop you from resenting it. The earth continues to spin on it’s axis, even when your world is falling apart.

I’m five years away from the moments I last spoke to my brother. Five years on since I last held him in my arms and told him I loved him, even though he was a pain, like most little brother’s should be.

The truth is that time doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If anything, sometimes it’s more difficult. When you first lose someone you love, you’re inundated with support. Cards and flowers cover every inch of surface within your home. Your notifications are constantly popping up, Facebook messages from school friends who are thinking of you or emails from family members with poems about love and loss. But what happens when the flowers wilt and die? What happens when the messages dry up and people move on?

We are left with an emptiness that will never quite be filled. Over time the pain is no longer as overpowering or unbearable. It’s more of a heavy weight that sits on your shoulders and seeps in to your being, becoming part of your DNA, your identity. Grief changes you. The pain reminds us of what we have lost, what we will never again find and how fragile life is. We wouldn’t change it. Although at times it’s more painful than words could ever express, it is who we are now. We carry it with us for the rest of our life, hoping we will find other human beings who are compassionate enough to notice our loss, respect our story and allow us to frame it on our wall, etch it into the tapestry of our life.

Five years without my brother may seem like a long time for those who haven’t lost a loved one. But for our family, we carry this grief with us for the rest of our lives. We are navigating a treacherous terrain and no matter how far we might get on this journey, there is still a chance we could slip or fall.

I have learnt time changes when you are grieving. It takes a new form.

I panic sometimes that another five years will go by in a flash, another five years without my brother’s voice or his smile will pass me so fast I can’t comprehend it. But one thing I do know for certain is that he will always be a part of my life and who I am. No matter what happens, he is always there, shaping who I am and who I want to be.

If you haven’t already listened, I did an episode about sibling grief for Beyond Today, a podcast by Radio 4. I shared my story alongside other bereaved siblings, including correspondent Matthew Price. I hope it’s helpful to those who need to talk about their grief:

p06pzmzj
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06w5z3m

Thank you,
Georgia

MK marathon races to success

This year marked another successful run for the Milton Keynes marathon with thousands of people lacing up their trainers for the event.

The marathon was started in 2012 by race director Andy Hully and will be one of the biggest events to happen in the year the town turns 50.

Andy said: “A lot of planning goes into this and there were 10,000 entries over all the events.

“Everyone wants to get in.”

He said 600 people volunteered their time for the event on May 1st and next year he would have to make the event even bigger to accommodate the rise in people who apply every year.

The event was also attended by Olympian Gail Emms and BBC Radio Two’s Jo Whiley who took part in the half-marathon event.

Jo Whiley said: “I live in Milton Keynes and I really love it.

“I ran with my husband and it was so good to go over the finish line holding hands with him.”

IMG_2231.JPG

MK Marathon holds four separate races which include the full and half marathon as well as a relay race.

This year the event also hosted a superhero fun run which saw over 1,000 people, including children, dress up to run the course.

It currently ranks in the top 10 marathons held in the UK.

The winner of the men’s full marathon was Gareth Cooke who crossed the finish lane in 2 hours 40 minutes and 8 seconds.

Asia Zmysolna was the first female to finish the course in 2 hours 57 minutes and 37 seconds.

Local charity Harry’s Rainbow were among the many local charities who took part in the full marathon.

IMG_1956.JPG

60 people ran for the charity to raise money for services which support bereaved children in Milton Keynes.

Odette Mould set up the charity after losing her son unexpectedly in 2009.

This year was her first time running a marathon.

Fun Exercises to Try at work