Music as Powerful Elixir

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A while back, I wrote a post about the discovery, in Germany, of a 40,000 year-old flute that was perfectly and symmetrically drilled so as to produce a euphonious sound.  (see post Music and the Brain, Oct 2011 for a photo).   There is growing consensus among researchers that music preceded speech in human development.  More below.

In an article the other day in the LA Times “Live Music Eases Veterans’ Ills”,  reporter Diana Marcum wrote how one VA hospital in Fresno, California, is using live music to ease the stress of veterans at the hospital.  Veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam, and Iraq are telling doctors and staff that hearing live music in the waiting room calms them and reduces anxiety and especially PTSD symptoms.  Dr. Hani Khouzam, a psychiatrist at the hospital, explained that patients were so much calmer he was having to take longer to make diagnoses…..and he was happy for it.  The playing of live music helped patients with psychological damage from war.

The article goes on to say how patients with Parkinson’s or Alzheimers have benefited from music therapy.  Remo Belli, founder of the Remo drum company, even manufactures a large table drum for Alzheimer patients.   Those like Arizona Representative Gabriel Giffords, who was shot in the head last year and suffered severe brain and speech trauma,  recovered brain and speech function because of music therapy.  It goes back to what Daniel Levitin says in his wonderful book This is Your Brain on Music:  that music preceded speech.   Music helps trigger growth of neural pathways and expands the brain, making speech possible.   This happened to our neanderthal ancestors, and is still happening today.  Levitin further says that “music not only masks triggers of trauma but also is adjusting patients’ brain chemistry”.

I’m reminded of the wonderful singer/songwriter Melody Gardot, who was hit by a car when she was 19 and forgot her music and just about everything else.  Music therapy helped her recuperate both brain and motor function.  She later produced two fantastic albums, Worrisome Heart and  My One and Only Thrill.

And, finally, there are the wonderful studies of neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, especially Musicophilia:  Tales of Music and the Brain.   In one amazing story, a man who was indifferent to music is struck by lightning.   After he was resuscitated and started to recover, he began to have more and more interest in music, eventually curtailing his medical practice, studying music, and even writing a piano concerto.  His brain had been re-wired by this traumatic incident.

Music has always been an important part of my life.  I don’t understand how some people are unaffected, even indifferent to it.  It’s such a powerful elixir and transcends all cultures and boundaries.  It is the most powerful of the arts.