I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.
– Billy Joel
‘The hills are alive, with the sound of music!’ Picture, if you will, Julie Andrews running, open armed, with gay abandon, across buttercup spotted rolling meadows, telling the world (or at least half of Saltzburg) how her ‘heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds and sing every song it hears’. Music has been a powerful art form since records began. Think of your favourite song. Is it rock or classical? Does it make you feel happy, emotional or just like kicking off your shoes and dancing madly around the room never mind who is watching?
Music as Therapy
Music can pick us up and calm us down, it can heal and soothe, it can fuel wars and end animosity. There are pages of research about music as therapy. Great activists like Pete Seeger, a pioneer who used music to influence major change in society and mental health and wellbeing in the sixites, encouraged many professionals to continue improving public health through use of this tool. As Obama said on his death;
‘He believed in the power of song to bring social change’.
In one of her many books, the PMA guru, Gabrielle Bernstein, encourages readers to make a positive perception playlist. You may have already noticed but I have added a page to Samspaces called A Space To Listen where I do just that. My aim was to share the tracks that have helped inspire and encourage me, but I want to explore how and why we find this art form so therapeutic too. I also want to use this opportunity to take a huge step out of my comfort zone and illustrate how singing has been such a huge healing tool for me.
Music has been widely researched as having numerous health benefits. In an article called ‘Mozart as Medicine’, James Clear researches the specific ways music can help with illness;
‘Music therapy is a burgeoning field. Those who become certified music therapists are accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people, or help them heal.’
– Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, November 5th 2015
The benefits of music as a therapy include relieving pain for patients post surgery, boosting immune system functions by decreasing stress hormones and increasing growth hormones. It has also been linked to happiness by stimulating the same areas of the brain that trigger joy in other activities such as humour and foods. After my first ever PET scan, we were mid house move and after getting back from the hospital, I turned on the TV and ‘Footloose’ was on. When my husband got home from the supermarket, rather than lying down and resting, he found me dancing around the kitchen packing boxes! Maybe it was the effects of the radioactive glucose but that song always gives me the boogie bug and I felt rejuvenated from the inside out.
So, does music really have the ability to relieve stress and anxiety? Listening to my iPod during chemo helped me tune out and connect with a calmer me. While the rest of my body was revolting like an exhausted army sitting on its heels and refusing to fight another battle, my little beacon of calm, right in my solar plexus, would be sparked like a flame when I heard certain music so I was not surprised to learn that music therapy can help reduce heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels.
‘If music makes you happy, then it might be possible that it is good for your health’
Mozart as Medicine: the Health Benefits of Music by James Clear
One lady I have been introduced to recently, Catherine Rannus, uses music (and exceptional talent) to produce the most beautiful melodies to help health and wellbeing;
‘I had the idea to use my voice as the main instrument….. and since stumbling across the research suggesting that our energy resonates with certain notes and frequencies I was compelled to write my first album.”
– Catherine Rannus
Catherine wrote her first album, Belightful Music, which is now used by many therapists to aid healing in treatments such as reiki, reflexology, and massage. I know a lot of people who have it in the background when they cant sleep, or when they are working to aid concentration too. The link below should take you to a taster of her music;
Catherine believes that when our mind and body are in harmony everything functions as it should and she has found her music to treat patients with common ailments to more serious conditions like heart disease with great success.
Singing your heart out
Not only has music been a huge influence on my wellbeing but so has my love of singing. Using my voice has been an incredible meditative tool that has helped my confidence and creativity. In Psychologies Magazine, a group of women were interviewed about what helped them during challenging times. Amanda Greatorex said that song writing helped her through her husbands death because;
‘It is healing for me to take a situation and almost boil down an idea over months, like alchemy, to a pure five minute song.’
Amanda Greatorex, Psychologies Magazine August 2015
Music gives our voice a vehicle and helps us connect to experiences we sometimes cant make sense of. It can be easier to express our true feelings through singing and song writing than talking face to face to someone. It gives us a creative channel to express our inner most thoughts and feelings, promoting empathy.
Lyrics such as ‘Doesn’t take a genius to realise that sometimes life is hard’ can immediately resonate. Connecting with a specific song can be like a heavy fog lifting. The lyrics of ‘Heal Over’ by KT Tunstall have always struck a chord (pardon the pun) with me, so when a great friend asked if he could record me singing it, I jumped at the chance.
The sound file below was recorded last year, before I found my amazing new singing teacher, Brijitte. I have sung all my life, in choirs, at school as well as for fun at friends weddings and parties, but I was itching to get back into a regular practice, especially after my third diagnosis. I knew it would bring me some calm through focusing on my breathing and the vocal practice would help my spirit soar. I got such a kick from doing it. When I met Brijitte I struck gold. Not only is she an amazing singer but she has also done a counselling course and knew instantly how much I needed to do this to help my own healing process on a totally different level.
‘My singing lessons focus on the student getting to know their own voice so in a way it’s like guiding someone to a deeper understanding of their own being.’
– Brijitte Dreyfuss
Through Brijitte’s teaching, I am gradually uncovering a richer, stronger voice. I didn’t realise how fearful I was of certain aspects of singing and how that was affecting my tone and performance. It is like learning a new language. Breathing is key and I have accessed a way of centring myself and recognising what a spiritual process singing can be.
When James sent the recorded version of Heal Over, I decided to put it up here, not just to share the amazing lyrics and offer my solidarity to those who had also been through something challenging, but with the intention of rerecording it in a few months time and posting it here to illustrate the difference that can be made by finding something you are truly passionate about and the love of working on that.
Music for the Soul
Despite my love of music and singing, and all the research to support its healing powers, there is the other side of the coin, that music is no better than other alternatives such as exercise, meditation and holistic therapies. There are also those who have found that during treatment, their love of music was diminished and replaced by a preference for silence. I can understand that, as the peace and stillness in silence is deeply healing too. There is a huge amount to be said for silent retreats and listening to natural sounds.
Personally, I believe a little bit of everything does you good and if music can be another tool in the box, we should use it! I met another amazing lady at a talk in London, who bravely stood up in front of a room of strangers, to vouch how she had found her voice again after a traumatic childhood and during thirteen years of recovery. Nadine is now an opera singer and empowerment coach;
‘I have come to embrace that ‘my voice’ is not just about singing…It is here to support others through change and allow them to be heard…my voice is in my writing and the words I speak.’
– Nadine Benjamin
She reinforced to me, that the benefits of using anything we love, to help us in times of adversity, are second to none. Music can unveil a strength inside us we never knew and reconnect us to an inner spirit. It is a totally non invasive therapy and with social media today, it is inexpensive, convenient and portable. Healing and music go together hand in hand;
Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.
So, with that in mind, the next time you see me running across buttercup spotted meadows with my arms wide open, wearing a pinnafore, you would be forgiven for thinking, that just like Maria, music is definitely one of my ‘favourite things’!
Details for Catherine Rannus and Brijitte Dreyfus are all listed on the Space to Learn directory page.
The attached sound file was composed and recorded by James Hughes.
Nadine Benjamin can be found at nadinebenjamin.com