Music As Therapy

By: Sarah Ban Breathnach.
Contributed by: Sherry Aylesworth

I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go without effort, when I am filled with music.- George Eliot

You already know that music can be an exquisite source of pleasure and entertainment. But did you also know that it can be a powerful form of prayer, meditation, and healing? Actually, musical therapy is an ancient tradition. Since the dawn of humanity, spiritual healers known as shamans have used drums, bells, and rattles to drive disease from the body, depression from the mind, despair from the soul.

Because music can reach beyond the barriers of our conscious mind, neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of Awakenings, believes it can become a key to unlocking a sense of self. Even Alzheimer patients who have lost their inner bearings often respond to music when all else has failed.

Finding the personal music that calls to us authentically can be empowering as you learn to nurture your creativity. Music loosens the grip of our conscious mind during the process of creation. I listen to classical music when I’m researching and to soaring movie themes while I’m writing. Anaïs Nin believed that music was “a stimulant of the highest order, far more potent than wine” when creating. Novelist Amy Tan listens to the same music each day as she writes, because it helps her pick up her narrative thread where she left off. This technique also works with other creative projects — painting, sculpting, pottery, handicrafts — which are started and stopped over a space of time. If you need to focus your concentration, listening to Mozart can increase your clarity — which is why it’s the recommended accompaniment for exam cramming as well as creative brain-storming. Given the fact that Mozart was a genius, it’s not surprising that his arrangement of musical notes affects our brain patterns positively.

Piano nocturnes — romantic, resonant, ruminative compositions for solo piano — are a virtual musical pharmacy. No one should be without a soothing tape or compact disc to play when stressed. I have even used piano nocturnes to calm our cats when they’re confined indoors because of injury, illness, or inclement weather. Instead of smoking or sipping the next time you’re extremely nervous, try Camille Saint-Saëns, Robert Schumann, Erik Satie, or Stephen Sondheim’s contemporary nocturnes in the musical A Little Night Music. When your hormones are playing havoc with your humor, try Haydn. Bach’s preludes and fugues are an exquisite balm for the blues. Gabriel Faure is a personal favorite when I’m frazzled, and Frederic Chopin’s exquisite nocturnes can restore a ravished soul even if a broken heart can’t be mended.

On another note, ten minutes of boogie-woogie can shake the deepest doldrums because rhythm reduces anxiety. If I have to work at night I find light jazz energizing, but for cooking I adore listening to songs of passionate hunger — traditional Irish music or opera. Soft rock or show tunes keep me moving while I clean, and I love to listen to country music when I carpool. When you crave more than the sounds of silence, there is music for every mood. Acknowledging your mood swings and honoring their reality with music to accompany the experience is soulcraft.

Gradually build a personal collection of musical selections to help you calm down, collect your thoughts, channel your creative energy and call forth your gifts.