Music in the NurseryA tiny infant lies in a neonatal ward. The heat of an incubator replaces the warmth of her mother's arms; tubes filled with nutrients replace her mother's milk. Every breath is a struggle. Her underdeveloped heart beats erratically. All around her are other infants in distress - the monitors attached to them bleep in time with their struggle to live. Fear is on the faces of anxious parents hovering as close as possible. Nurses scurry to and fro, dealing with crises every moment.
The peace and tranquility of their mother's wombs is replaced with the whoosh and hiss of respirators, bleeping monitors, parents crying, nurses giving and receiving instructions. Even though these infants are not fully conscious of their surroundings, these sounds affect their ability to relax and sleep. And sleep is essential to helping them gain strength and live.
In the midst of this, a harpist enters the ward. She begins to softly play an ancient lullaby. After a few moments, the monitors steady. Nearly all of the infants breathe more easily; their heartrates steady, and they rest. Many of them fall into deep sleep - the first they have had since the harpist last was here.
The nurses relax, and smiles of relief grace the faces of the parents when they see the tiny souls absorbing the healing power of this beautiful music.
Music and AlzheimersA group of Alzheimers patients are gathered in the assembly room of a nursing home. One tiny, frail woman sits off to the side in her wheelchair. Her eyes are vacant - her mind somewhere far from her body and the room in which it rests.
The activities director introduces a young couple. He carries a guitar, and walks with his wife to the piano. The young woman sits down, and plays a few notes. Most of the residents have not even looked up - they don't hear most of what anyone says - or if they do, they cannot, or will not, respond. But the two volunteers are unconcerned; they smile at each other and the seniors, and they begin to play and sing. A rousing rendition of "Oh, Susannah" has several of the residents looking up - flickers of recognition cross their faces. A few choruses of "How Great Thou Art" inspires many of them to stand and walk or wheel their chairs toward the piano. Soon several are singing along to "Amazing Grace". A few country and western tunes bring several more residents into the present, and "In the Mood" has nearly everyone dancing along. Everyone, that is, except the frail, tiny woman in the wheelchair in the corner.
The guitarist is concerned, and calls over a nurse who tells him that the little woman is German, and doesn't know most American songs. She has also reverted back to speaking German - unable to converse any longer in English, for she cannot remember the words.
The young man smiles and signals to his wife. The next tune is the "Blue Danube." He watches closely, and sees that the frail old woman's eyes begin to focus. She watches as several of the residents begin to waltz together - wheelchairs and all. When "The Beer Barrel Polka" starts, this tiny woman, who hasn't smiled or connected in any way with anyone for months, wheels her chair toward the piano. Singing all the way. The other residents clap, and sing along with her, all of them excited to recognize her and each other. The party continues for an hour, when the young couple must go to their day jobs.
When the music stops, it isn't long before most of the residents retreat back into their selves. But the frail little lady continues to hum - she's remembered a tune on her own now, and hums the melody to "Liebestraum" until she, too, fades back into her own world. It was only for a short while, but the music gave these lonely patients a few moments of connection, happiness, and memory.
Music is Healing for All AgesEveryone from tiny infants to octogenarians experience little miracles like this every day. Some are healed, some are given a few moments of relief from pain, still others are comforted in their passage to the beyond. It is the power of music which makes these little miracles possible.
Unfortunately, much of the western medical establishment refuses to acknowledge the incredible benefits of music. It is employed regularly in only about fifteen percent of American hospitals, and is not covered by insurance. Despite the overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence that music heals, the medical establishment will argue that there is no "proof" of the efficacy of music - nothing which meets the rigorous requirements of the scientific method.
But healing isn't about science. Healing is about people. And real people are experiencing very real results from the healing power of music, often through the efforts of volunteers, in hospices, senior centers, and in cancer and children's wards. Stress is the number one indicator of the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. More than diet, more than family history, more than weight.