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Tune Your Life with Music

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Our singing President!

June 29th, 2015 · Music Healing

Did you ever think you’d hear the President of the United States sing?  This is the 8th or 9th President in office since I was born in 1948, and I can’t think of a single President that I have heard burst into song, and do a great job of it!!

Supposedly, Harry Truman was a pretty good piano player and Bill Clinton played the saxophone, but who knew that Obama could sing like this?  It did seem to be like a healing balm that day at the funeral in Charleston, where Obama unexpectedly began singing, after delivering a beautiful eulogy.  Watch it for yourself and see what you think!

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Can music be a painkiller??

June 25th, 2015 · Music Healing, Music in the Hospital

Nearly every day, someone contacts me who is about to go to the hospital for a procedure of some kind. Most of these people are preparing to have surgery and have questions about how they can use music for the procedure.  Patients wonder, can music be a painkiller?  Pain is one of the many issues they are worried about, in addition to side-effects of anesthesia, side-effects of the surgical incision, and of course, fear that the surgery will not be successful.  As a therapist and a Music Medicine practitioner, I do everything I can to reassure patients with calm and affirming information and education about the process.  Music, however, is one of the easiest and safest ways to calm a patient, before, during and after surgery.

This week, NPR presented some new research on the use of music as a painkiller in the hospital.  Of course I was thrilled to see this, but I’ve taken it a step further!  Instead of putting music into the patient intravenously (which of course is impossible, but a makes for a cute picture!), most people give the patient an iPod or other wired MP3 device.  What we have done is to actually put the music INSIDE the headphones which allows the patient to listen with no cord attached to headphones, risking entanglement with IV, blood pressure cuff, or nurse call apparatus and bed movement control button!

As a clinical musicologist, I have spent the past 25 years of my career studying the anxiety and fear people experience prior to and after surgery.  Every day, people postpone or even cancel their much-needed surgery because they are so convinced that they won’t survive the procedure or the anesthesia. Now patients can buy our very successful, pre-loaded headphones and begin to relax to this music for weeks in advance if they want to!  See www.SurgicalSerenitySolutions.com

If I knew how to reach the people at #NPR, I would love to enlighten them!

In the meantime, suffice it to say, that if you’re experiencing pain from any part of your body, reach for some of your favorite soothing music!  You’ll be glad you did!!

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Preemies and the Power of Music

May 26th, 2015 · Lullabies, Music Healing, Music in the Hospital, Music with Newborns and Preemies

Gigi and Beau.9.14

Who doesn’t love a tiny, newborn baby?  The innocense, the sweetness, the delicious smell and sounds?  But if your baby was born prematurely, and survived, chances are that there will be weeks and months and continued struggle, just to survive.   Sometimes, parents know that there is a good chance that their baby or babies will be born prematurely.  In the case of multiple births, the chance is almost 100%.  In other pregnancies, the doctor may have discovered a congenital birth defect of some kind, heart issues, brain, or other organs can be compromised in some way.

In this case, music therapists can do some powerful interventions.  I’ll never forget a story that Deforia Lane, Ph.D., MT-BC,  told about a call she received one morning to do a music therapy session with an unborn baby.  The mother had been in a car accident the night before and by all methods of diagnostics, appeared to be brain dead.  The baby, however still had a strong heartbeat and was moving around!  The hospital realized that if the baby was to survive until she was big enough and strong enough to be born, then the mother would have to be kept alive.  And so she was connected to all the machines that would keep her alive until the baby was ready to be delivered.  And that’s when Deforia was called in.   She related that she was overwhelmed with the challenge when she first got this assignment, but as usual, she accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion.  She prayed for guidance before she entered the room, and stood silently looking at the woman whose eyes were closed and whose breath came only as a result of the machines to which she was connected.

As she slowly approached the woman, she knew what she would do.  When she was beside the bed, she slowly put her hands on the woman’s abdomen and felt the baby inside.  Softly and quietly, she began to sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  As she sang she felt the baby begin to move gently, first one way, then the other.  She continued singing and knew instinctively that this was making a positive difference on this precious gift from God.  She did this daily, adding “Jesus Loves Me,” and many other nuturing spiritual songs!

One day a few weeks later, she got the call that a healthy baby had been delivered and that the music therapy she had given this baby had made a priceless contribution to the survival of the baby.  What more can we ask?  Thank God for the gift of music and for trained music therapists and loving parents who sing to their babies.

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Physicians and Musicians: What’s the connection?

April 29th, 2015 · Healing Music, Music in Antiquity, Physicians and Musicians

Longwood SymphonyIn ancient Rome and Athens, many of the physicians were not only physicians, they were also musicians!  They knew the healing powers of music, sound, rhythm, and harmony and they often were quite skilled musicians themselves. Yes, physicians and musicians seem to have a lot in common!   You’ve all heard of the Greek God, Apollo?  He was the God of both music and medicine and was recognized for that for centuries.  In ancient times, music was often prescribed and administered by the physician whether it was playing a lyre, a flute, a panpipe, or perhaps singing to the patient in a specific mode.

Today, we are coming full circle and physicians are again recognizing the power of music as medicine and as a therapy.  The orchestra above is the famous Longwood Symphony, located in Boston, MA.  It is comprised entirely of physicians and other medical personnel.   Each concert focuses on a specific disease or disability, such as leukemia, diabetes, breast cancert and so forth.  The fields of nursing, music therapy, music medicine, as well as many specialties in medicine, have now conducted and published dozens of scientific studies, documenting the many and varied benefits of music in the field of medicine.

In addition, physicians are either already skilled in playing instruments, or are learning to play instruments for their own relaxation or self-nurturing.  There are orchestras springing up around the country that are comprised entirely of physicians.  I’m most familiar with one in Boston is the Longwood Symphony.  This wonderful ensemble performs several times a year and there is always a charitable cause that benefits from their concerts!  What a great idea!

Another interesting story comes from New York:

“When New York City physician, teacher, writer and editor Danielle Ofri took up the cello in 2006, it was to encourage her daughter to practice the violin: The girl’s teacher had told her that seeing a parent practice was the best way to make a child want to do the same.

Ofri, an associate professor of medicine at New York University, thought that practising would be a chore, she observed in a 2009 article in The Lancet — a responsibility, in the way that looking after patients, teaching, writing and editing are chores for her. (Her word.) But it turned out to be something she truly wanted to do.

She looked forward, “almost to the exclusion of all else,” each evening to practising the Bach suite she was working on — no matter how tired she was.

The fatigue dissipates for Montreal family physician Johanne Thibaudeau, too, when she picks up her violin: playing is a form of meditation for her. “When I start to practise, I can be very tired — and, after half an hour, I’m not tired anymore,” she said. “I can go for an hour and a half.

And with music in my life, I have the feeling of being a better person — perhaps because I have done something to nourish a part of myself. I am very relaxed. — Johanne Thibaudeau

Thibaudeau has observed that many doctors are serious amateur musicians and she wonders: Is it that music speaks to them? Or are they simply highly motivated people who have an easy time learning new material?”

I’ve known for years that physicians are often talented musicians, and they are definitely wonderful supporters of the arts both by their presence and their financial support.  Let’s hope that this partnership and connection lasts as long as civilization lasts!

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Music Medicine with PTSD: The Hidden Wound

March 29th, 2015 · Healing Music, Music Healing, Music with PTDS, Veterans of Wars

Men and women who go to war encounter horrors that are truly unimaginable the average person.  This is nothing new.  Wars have always been bloody and violent even thousands of years ago.  In my parents generation, they saw the horrors of mustard gas and bombs of World War I.  My own father fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and almost died because he lay in the snow for over 24 hours, bleeding.  Since then, we’ve had the Vietnam War, which my husband almost had to fight in, had it not ended in 1974, then the War in Afghanistan and now the on-going Middle East conflicts!  It never ends!

Is there any way that music could make a serious difference?  Well, the VA hospitals certainly think so!  As a matter of fact, the Veteran’s hospitals were the very first hospital systems that started whole departments for music therapy after World War II.   Music is such a simple tool that people often take it for granted, but in the hands of skilled therapists and musicians, miraculous things can happen!

People with PTSD often try to “not talk about it” and be “brave” and “stoic.”   A recent article in TIME magazine on music therapy with Veterans reported that “We’re currently losing more veterans to suicide than to enemy action. If you ever confront another veteran and they tell you they never thought about killing themselves, they’re lying.” – Steven Diaz, veteran of the 2003 Iraq War

How does music make such a difference.  One of the ways is that music by-passes conscious defense mechanisms and goes straight to the heart.  When a patient hears music that is meaningful to him and elicits powerful memories and emotions, it’s difficult to deny or hide these emotions.  A skilled therapist will pick up on this and enter through this crack in the facade.

Not only that, but for Vets that are primarily depressed, music can transport the person to happier times, pre-War and build on this memory trip to explore what created these warm and happy memories and build upon that.  Click here to see a 7-minute documentary on the use of music with Vets who have been diagnosed with PTSD.  It’s powerful!

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Music Therapy or Music Medicine: Revisited

March 1st, 2015 · Genres of healing music, Music in the Hospital, Music Medicine, Rhythmic Entrainment

Music therapy and music medicine are not the same, although many people use them interchangeably.   The medical/wellness/nursing community almost always are believers in the power of music to help people feel better, get motivated, calm their anxiety and more.  However, in modern times, the field of music therapy has become organized, codified, created accredited degree programs, and the possibility of board certification.  Very impressive!

To my mind, the biggest difference between music therapy and music medicine is that in music therapy, a music therapist music be present and a therapeutic relationship must be developed.   In music medicine, carefully chosen music is used as a therapeutic intervention.  Specifically in the case of the Surgical Serenity Solution, our pre-programmed headphones are an example of music medicine.  The music on these headphones was carefully chosen by a professional musicologist who is also a licensed psychotherapist.  This specific playlist of classical miniatures was chosen for it’s ability to calm patients before, during and after surgery by eliciting the “relaxation response” by tapping into the power of rhythmic entrainment.

I would love to hear your questions or comments on this!

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Music and the Super Bowl: Revisited

January 29th, 2015 · Healing Music, Music Healing, Music Review

I know what you’re thinking:  what in the world does music have to do with the Super Bowl??  Well, in my mind, of course, everything has to do with music!  When I think of the Super Bowl, the questions that come to mind are:

  • Who’s singing the National Anthem?
  • Who will perform  the half-time show?
  • What music/sounds will accompany the million-dollar commercials?

Last year, I was super excited because an internationally-known opera singer was going to sing the national anthem.  Yes, Renee Fleming sang the national anthem and it was probably the highlight of the whole evening for me, even though I actually do enjoy football!

This performance was quite controversial I found out, because many sports fans want to sing along with the national anthem and this was a slow, emotional, soulful performance of the this famous song, and not one that could easily be sung along with!

Check out her performance here:


Soooo…guess who’s singing it this year!  Another very different kind of singer.  One who’s name is not well-known among citizens above age 10, but it’s none other than Idina Menzel, famous singer of the hit song “Let it Go” from Disney’s blockbuster “Frozen!”  I’m actually really looking forward to that too, but it will be so interesting to hear the reactions of the fans!

Hearing a beautiful rendition of our national anthem to me, is a truly healing experience, especially now when our country is going through so much turmoil, both here and internationally.  Let’s listen to it with an open mind and an open heart and see where it takes us!

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National Music Therapy Conference coming to Louisville!

November 2nd, 2014 · Music Healing

The profession of music therapy has recently grown by leaps and bounds in KY, thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Barbara Wheeler, who came to the University of Louisville in 2000 and started the first degree program in the state of KY, at the University of Louisville School of Music.  For decades before that, many professionals in music and in healthcare tried to start such a program but could never get it past the legislators in Frankfort.  Apparently, they just didn’t understand that professionally trained musicians could work wonders with disabilities of all kinds; but they needed to be paid.

For centuries, probably, musicians have volunteered in their spare time, or perhaps full-time after retirement, in nursing homes, children’s homes, children’s hospitals, etc.  But what if doctors and nurses were volunteers and did not get paid.  Yes, they can help and bring lots of enjoyment and even distraction from pain, but with professional training in music therapy, they can actually bring about changes and healing in ways that volunteers might not know about or know how to implement.  Music therapists take not only the basic music classes such as music theory, performance, and instrumental and vocal methods classes, they also take things like human anatomy, psychology of music, psycho-acoustics and music therapy research.

The field of music therapy in modern times, started shortly after World War II in the Veteran’s hospitals, where activity therapists noticed how profoundly some of the men responded to the Big Band volunteers that came in each week to play for wounded vets, suffering from such diagnoses as “shell shock” and “battle fatigue,” and in modern times, PTSD.

The video below shows a music therapist in a VA hospital and she used her skills to make a real difference in the patient’s life.  One of the many things that music therapists also do is write songs with patients that bring out feelings that need to be expressed, often feelings of anger, loss, grief, emotional pain, and abandonment by the people who were supposed to be protecting them.  Healing can begin once these feelings are acknowledged and expressed.  Music therapists also need to have excellent counseling and interviewing skills.


The national conference of the American Music Therapy Association will be this Thursday-Sunday, November 6-9 right here in Louisville, KY.  In addition to concerts, and wonderful exhibits and keynotes, there will be:

Special intensive learning events for students, the future of our profession, featuring leading expert speakers and facilitators scheduled during concurrent sessions and designed specifically for students and interns.

  • Starting Your Own Music Therapy Program or Music Therapy Business with DeForia Lane, Jamie George, & Amber Weldon-Stephens (3 Hours)
  • Exploring the Nordoff Robbins Approach with Live Music-Making & Case Studies presented by Alan Turry (3 Hours)
  • State Advocacy & Reimbursement with Judy Simpson, Dena Register, & Kimberly Sena Moore (2 Hours)
  • The Father of the Drum Circle — Arthur Hull’s Student Session (2 Hours)
  • Songwriting with GRAMMY winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer (2 Parts – 3 Hours)

Many of the sessions are open to the general session for a small fee.  I would highly recommend to any healthcare provider who is interested in learning more about the therapeutic uses of music!

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