Facts About the Ongoing Enigma That is Music Therapy 4
The Enigma that is Music Therapy
Is it really possible that music as such can effectively contribute toward recovery from a debilitating illness? From reliable research over many years, and ongoing evidence pointing to its efficacy, there can be little doubt that it is a force for immense good, and so the answer must be an emphatic - Yes! Music therapy has reliably demonstrated that it can not only help toward recovery in illnesses, but is a authentic modality in many other therapeutic spheres as well.
Apart from Music Therapy as such, the roots of music itself can be traced as far back as 70 000 years, gleaned from evidence discovered in ancient cave paintings. Scientific evidence has shown that music has the power to affect certain portions of the brain (both human and animal) where it impacts on emotions and thus pays a major role in social interaction.
After the 2nd World War, when distressed war veterans returned home, many of them were seriously depressed. As a result of this, and in a move to combat the malady, the hospital authorities introduced musicians, and their music, into the troop hospitals where they achieved remarkable success. They found that the level of stress reduction could actually be measured by the drop in heart rate, blood pressure and their reduced breathing rate.
Also, in the Second World War they had what was then the new technology of radio and sound movies. Popular songs spread much further, quicker and wider than previously. The BBC had a powerful influence on what songs were actually sung. Community sing-songs were tremendously popular and for young people, dancing; that is, two people standing in front of each other, holding each other and moving gracefully to music that was soft enough that conversation was not impossible. The older people can easily explain this quaint, now disappearing phenomenon to the youngsters.
A remarkable example of the power of music could be seen in Pablo Casalo, born in Spain, he emigrated to the USA, passing through the famous Ellis Island – he became one of the great musicians of the 20th Century. Having played the piano for most of his life, shortly before his 90th birthday, he gave what was to a memorable performance:
By now his hands were swollen, and fingers clenched, ravaged by a form of arthritis so severe that he needed help when getting dressed. As if this was not enough, it was compounded by the scourge of Emphysema affecting his lungs and therefore his breathing – now a very frail and drained old man. But the transformation that came over him when he sat down and started to play the piano was nothing short of remarkable:
His fingers unlocked, his back straightened and he appeared to breathe more easily. The change brought about after a session of playing his music was further evidenced when he stood up from the piano, now walking straighter, taller, and without the trace of a shuffle.
For those that may have been debilitated by the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, where they cannot talk, but CAN sing, cannot walk, but CAN dance (and ice Skate!) – music is a real blessing. For yet others living the hell that is encountered in Alzheimer’s, it is heartening that these folk, when music that they are familiar with is played, actually start to remember themselves, and BE themselves.
In the field of Music Therapy, its most common use is when working with people suffering from some forms of intellectual impairment, or where they are having difficulty with learning.
The idea of Music Therapy to achieve certain objectives is not a modern discovery – in the Middle Ages the Monks had music played in the background to help them with memorizing lengthy passages of scripture.
Einstein, apart from his prowess and fame as a Scientist, played the violin – and he said that doing this triggered in him a “reflective state of mind” – which undoubtedly contributed to him being able to resolve complicated formulae. In fact, when questioned whether he could see any relationship between his Physics research and his music, he retorted with “both are of the same source and indeed complement one another”.
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, the sixth man ever to walk on the moon, has a message for all citizens of Earth: “We are not alone”. Indeed, in 1998, scientists at the University of Berkeley, California reported that a previously unheard tone was being produced by a distant star – it is fun to speculate that perhaps they are using alien Music Therapy to cleanse the earth before they arrive here.
Back down on Mother Earth though, the elements of sound and music are increasingly being used by music therapists to routinely bring about improvements and changes in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. In this context, it is therefore both and art and a science.
The power of music as a healing force to alleviate both illness and distress has been used extensively in many cultures, but it has only been in the 2nd half of the 20th Century that Music Therapy has evolved as a separate, and specific discipline and acknowledged as a paramedical profession.
Increasingly it is being recognized by Governmental agencies, to the extent that Music Therapy is now State Registered in the USA and UK, and widely practised in many countries across the world, including South Africa (where one can follow a degree course) Australia (both Sydney and Melbourne Universities, India and New Zealand.
Professional Music Therapists work across a wide range of people, starting with the very young, to the elderly. Their work across this wide spectrum has repeatedly shown that spontaneous emotional, as well as learned physical responses to music are stored at a deep level in the human brain.
This is evidenced even in patients who have diffuse brain damage, responding to music therapy, and reacting by singing melodic fragments related to the music being played, which is clearly and rhythmically intoned by them.
The enormous bridging potential of music is indeed profound, with its uncanny ability to bypass speech and inner emotional issues to reach and touch the inner psyche of people, and this makes the field even more exciting in the years ahead.
Other groundbreaking areas of Music Therapy include:
• The use of musical instruments for indirect communication with those afflicted by autism
• The use of rhythmic music provides an invisible structure, and energy toward helping people with mild to serious physical disability, enabling them to gain control of their limbs, and then organize their bodily movements
• People afflicted by what Winston Churchill called his “black dog” – depression, can use music to gain access to, and then express deeply entrenched emotions – and concomitantly boost their sense of self-esteem.
• Terminally ill children and adults can listen to music to bring down their levels of tension, and now even learn to play an instrument to increase their levels of energy and sense of control. In this respect, an amazing and exciting development has been the Reverie Harp: (click here to look and listen)
• In the education sphere music therapy is undoubtedly a very powerful tool and can be used in a variety of ways. One such case was where a control group demonstrated an improvement in their test scores by a dramatic 80% over a period of just 8 months of therapy. Interestingly, the type of tests being used was the kind that they would later find useful in mathematics and engineering.
Nowadays, professional music therapists are employed, and practise in a variety of settings, including hospitals, prisons, hospices, schools, pre-school, or in private practice. It is also considered as being an excellent alternative, or supplementary to psychotherapy. It provides a very exciting and rewarding career option. No longer the struggling, but talented poorly paid musician - the world has changed remarkably - for them and for the people they are going to serve in the years to come.