There’s a saying that “music tames the savage beast.” If you think back to Biblical examples, every time an evil spirit tormented Saul, he called David to play his harp. Eventually, Saul would be consoled and David would go about his business. Fast forward to the year 2017 and you’ll see the medical profession is actually actively using music as part of a healing process.
What is it about music that’s so effective? In the article “Does Music Have Healing Powers?” Michael Friedman discusses how music is a “potent treatment for mental health.” He presents that Pete Seeger’s music is an “important part of his legacy with the potential of music to affect change on a personal level.”
As a mental health care practitioner, Friedman explains how yoga, meditation, and the creative arts are very helpful but it’s music that carries the greatest potential to reach people that generally don’t seek out professional assistance. In his article, Friedman presents evidence that music does indeed help to heal emotional suffering. Not only does music affect us emotionally but physically as well. Listening to music can change our heart rate and blood pressure. In turn, that relaxes us so other bits and pieces follow suit. One thing leads to another…
In the article, “Can Music Heal Trauma? Exploring the Therapeutic Powers of Sound,” author Jayson Greene discusses how music therapy helps babies in the neonatal unit. “They [the babies] are creatures of touch and sound whose physiological systems are still in development. How can they be soothed in an environment where they are lost, terrified, uncomprehending?” quotes Greene. A trained music therapist is part of the “prescription” to help with the traumatic experiences these babies endure by being in a hospital.
I find it amazing that it’s taken the medical profession so long to finally clue into the healing powers of music. Either way, I’m happy to see that they are no longer “clueless” in this department. Maybe because I’ve been a musician most of my life, I view the act of creating music as a therapeutic entity. To me, the fact that music has healing powers is a no-brainer.
Let me dig back into the recesses of my childhood when I was learning to play the clarinet. At some point, I actually started to be good at it, which led to me enjoying it more. I loved to practice, much to the dismay of my brothers. After a couple hours, I’d hear a voice bellowing down the stairs “It’s time to quit now!” I think the parental units struggled with me playing the same music over and over.
One day, I was practicing an etude. I don’t remember the details but something was going on in my life that was causing stress. I sat in my room playing this melancholy tune, pouring myself into the fabric of every note in the music. It was the first time I really “engaged” a piece of music. After the final note drifted off, I sat quietly as I literally felt the power of the music resonate through my being. At first, I didn’t know what to think. It truly was a special moment. After some more time of quiet reflection, I realized something in me had changed. Whatever the problem was, I no longer felt it. It was as if this silly little etude carried me to a different dimension of reality – one that brought healing to the pain I was experiencing at the moment.
Bear in mind, I was in high school. None of this made sense to me in that moment but, after that day, I went on about my business with a new sense of hope in the healing powers of music. Not that I actually knew it at the time but as I reflect upon that incident now, it makes sense. I would venture to guess that moment in my childhood probably propelled me into becoming a professional musician. There was a connection with the music I’d never had before. By allowing myself to become part of the music, it changed something within me.
Here I am many years later. It’s 2017 and although my musical focus has shifted to intentionally creating healing music, I’m still reminded of how music truly helped me through the traumas of childhood and into my adult life. We all have trauma. No one is exempt. The difference is what we do with that trauma and how we let it (or don’t let it) affect us. We get to choose how we respond to everything around us. No, we often can’t control the situation but we do have a choice in our responses.
I’m reminded of the Pollyanna story where Disney made a movie from Eleanor Porter’s book, “Pollyanna.” A quick synopsis of the story… Pollyanna, an orphan, is a cheerful, talkative and very optimistic child who focuses on the goodness of life and always finds something to be glad about, no matter the situation. I think she’s the one who invented the “glad game.” After an accident, Pollyanna becomes depressed for a short time but as she realizes people around her care, her cheerfulness returns. The movie ends with the hopefulness that paralysis from the accident can be reversed through an operation.
Although this story has nothing to do with music, it has everything to do with a state of mind. After this movie came out, people could be labeled as a “Pollyanna” because of over-cheerfulness. The sad thing here? It was considered not healthy to be that optimistic. After all, there was a need to look at reality. The problem with reality is that it’s different for everyone. Some see the glass half full while others see it half empty. The situations may be the same but the difference lies in our views.
I believe that we can make a decision on where our focus will be. In the midst of trauma, we can choose to dwell on it or to work through it. As seen in my example, music greatly helped me work through traumas in my life. There was a time when I set music-making aside. And, that time was one of the darkest moments of my life. I chose to put my musical gift on a shelf because of what I was going through. Guess what? It didn’t help! In fact, things only got worse for a time.
My encouragement to all who read this – no matter what ails you physically, mentally, or emotionally, consider adding healing music as a regular part of your life. I have it playing 24/7 in my house. And, since I started doing that, animals are showing up in my yard that never did so before. Birds build nests all over the place (including on the front porch), much to the delight of my cats. When people come to visit, they notice a peacefulness about my home. So, the music that I play is doing something.
What should you use for healing music? It will depend on the person. First off, you must play music that speaks to your spirit, soul, and body. Those of us who create healing music, do so with that intent. Remember, intent is everything. For a refresher on intent, CLICK HERE for that blog post.
My intent as a musician is to create music that reaches into your spirit first, then filters into the soul to bring emotional refreshing and healing. That in turn allows the body to become free of “dis-ease.” You can see how that works in the articles I’ve discussed above. Although the term “music therapy” is reserved for trained professionals, any music that brings healing to you is therapy through music.
© 2017 by Del Hungerford
Watch this video on how to listen to healing music: