Music is Medicine.
Oh, not the pharmaceutical kind where you pop a tune and it puts a band-aid over your symptoms but you gain 10 pounds and you have lots of dry mouth but no orgasms. Not that kind of medicine.
It’s the kind of medicine that you get from a Shaman, who shakes a rattle over you, sits beside you drumming and chanting, calls home a piece of your soul and then sends you away with a prescription to dance naked in some rain and play with a box full of puppies and you actually start to heal from the inside out and your life begins to transform.
Music heals when it has rhythm that entrains us to the Great Central Heartbeat. It heals when it inspires us to sing along because we can’t help it. It heals when it puts us in tune with everyone and everything around us.
It might not be a silver-bullet instantaneous cure. It might not heal what you think is wrong with you. But it will probably put you so in tune with everything that is right with you that all the other stuff ceases to matter.
Music is increasingly being used in a therapeutic context, because it works.
Music Therapy (MT) is a long-established practice within the medical community that helps people develop or recover fundamental social, cognitive, language or motor skills. Stroke victims often lose the capacity for speech, but most of them can still sing, and that is the pathway into communication for them. A music therapist will use that capacity to create new paths to the language center, or create a new language center if the old one is damaged beyond repair. Music therapy helps people with Parkinson’s learn to walk with more confidence and speed. Autistic people often learn vital communication skills through drumming with others, so they can make their needs known to the outside world.
Sound Healing (SH, ironically) works with specific frequencies and intervals, specific rhythms, and uses singing bowls, tuning forks, gongs, drums and percussive instruments, and vocal toning to address specific complaints, to relieve pain, decrease anxiety and stress, reduce blood pressure, and relieve insomnia, to name but a handful of common things people see sound healers for. Tuning forks can be used on all the acupressure/acupuncture points as well, and can address all the same issues that people typically consult an acupuncturist for. Vocal toning is a powerful immune system activator and strengthener, and is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being.
Sound Work (SW) combines parts of both of these disciplines, but also opens the door to music instruction, composition and performance as well. Therapeutic Music Instruction (TMI) can be used to help people prevent, minimize or relieve symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s and memory loss. It can be extremely powerful in managing depression and anxiety. A typical session for someone with depression or anxiety would be sixty minutes, broken in two sections. The first thirty minutes would be a healing session, using sound healing, Reiki and possibly guided meditation to relax and harmonize the client. Once the client is in a state of peace and relaxation, the lesson begins, and the client leaves the session feeling energized and yet at peace. The goal is that they strongly associate playing music with those feelings so that when they are confronted with something that causes them to be anxious, stressed or depressed they can pick up their instrument and within a few minutes return to a state of peace and well-being.
My own work in this area has been incredibly rewarding.
I worked with a young autistic man who was very non-communicative. It took a while, but I discovered when we started playing duets together, he started communicating more with me – because when you play a duet with someone, you really have to listen closely and deeply to what they are playing so you can stay in harmony with them. Not a big leap to see how that skill can enhance verbal communication. He graduated high school and is now in college, continuing to not only play music, but has begun to compose music as well, and says music is what keeps him stable, balanced, and focused.
There is a wonderful young woman with Down Syndrome that I began working with several years ago. Her parents had been told by too many people that the violin was beyond her capacity, but she insisted that she wanted to play, and they persisted in finding a teacher. I’m from the bluegrass world; if somebody with one arm says they want to learn to play the mandolin, we’re gonna figure out a way. The answer is always “yes.” So I quite happily accepted her as a student in my studio. She was pretty quiet, and didn’t understand any of my jokes, but I found ways to make sure she understood what I needed her to do to begin to play. When we first started, it was three weeks before she could do more than simply draw the bow across the strings, but slowly I got her fingers to work, and it wasn’t long before she began learning songs. After about a year, she started getting my jokes. She became a chatterbox. Then she started making jokes. This is a huge, huge shift. A symptom of brain damage for a healthy person is the loss of the ability to understand jokes. Playing the violin is rewiring this girl’s brain, making her smarter, more independent, and way more capable of communicating her thoughts to the world.
I have students who are working through trauma-based depression, managing PTSD, and keeping dementia at bay. I have some pre-teens who are building confidence, communication and leadership skills, and recovering from bullying. Watching my “kids” thrive lights me up like I can’t even tell you.
This work is my magnum opus.
Helping people thrive through music is what I was born to do. It’s better than any gig. It’s more important than any record. Given the choice between Carnegie Hall and my teaching studio, I will choose my studio every time. It is not glamorous, it isn’t going to make me famous, there are no standing ovations. But I would happily take one “ah-ha” moment to a hundred standing ovations. Playing on a stage for 1000 people, my energy was divided into 1000 pieces. Sitting in my teaching studio beside a student, my energy is undivided, and the difference is phenomenal.
I have become a gardener of people, relishing the slow, incremental growth and singing hallelujah for every flower.