Human beings are governed by rhythms. From our pulsing heartbeat, to the cadence of our speech patterns, to when we fall asleep and wake up—countless rhythms drive our existence.
Perhaps this is why we are so mesmerized by music.
“From lullabies to funeral songs, music is a part of our lives from the moment we enter the world, until the moment we leave it,” says Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of the Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve.
She describes a phenomenon called, “entrainment,” whereby people’s biological rhythms become synchronized with the music they’re listening to.
Entrainment exerts such a powerful force that simply listening to and focusing on soothing music can actually help a person enter a more relaxed state of physical and mental functioning. Once people enter this state, they’re better able to physically and mentally process things—from medications to emotions.
A professional music therapist, Snyder-Cowan is part of a specially-trained group of care providers who use melodies to achieve a particular treatment goal. “Music therapy is all about the intentional use of music to bring about a particular change; whether that change is therapeutic, emotional or spiritual,” she says.
Melodies may be better than meds
Music therapists work in a variety of different settings, from hospitals to halfway houses.
In some cases, music may even be more powerful than more traditional medical interventions, such as prescriptions and physical therapy.
Here are a few studies that demonstrate how Mozart may trump medicine:
Singing helps the stroke-stricken to speak sooner: A study conducted on a group of Finnish stroke sufferers found that listening to their favorite tunes while recovering helped them regain their ability to recognize words and communicate. When compared to stroke sufferers who listened to audiobooks or nothing at all, those that listened to music for a few hours a day experienced a much faster recovery of their verbal skills. The music listeners were also less likely to be depressed and confused, two common post-stroke side effects.
Pulsing pitches set pace for people with Parkinson’s: Numerous studies have indicated that music therapy can allow people with Parkinson’s to regain some of their overall functioning. In certain cases, music may even prove more effective at helping a Parkinson’s sufferer move better than traditional physical therapy techniques, according to an Italian study published in, “Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.” Music therapy also upped the quality of life and overall feelings of happiness reported by those dealing with the disease.
Classical compositions have calming cardiovascular effects: German researchers discovered that people recovering from open-heart surgery had lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, after listening to classical music. Relaxing refrains also helped patients calm down pre-surgery. In some cases, listening to music before an operation was more effective in getting a person to relax than commonly-prescribed anti-anxiety medications.
Melodic intervention to manage grief
Music therapists also work with hospice care providers to assist a dying person and his family as they go through the grieving process.
Depending on the unique needs and wishes of the ailing individual and her family, a music therapist can perform services, such as helping to create a compilation CD of songs that have special meaning to the dying person to give as a legacy gift, composing a song about the person’s life, and selecting and playing particular melodies meant to ease their emotional and physical pain as they transition out of this life.
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Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Most people know the Barber of Seville through Gioachino Rossini’s opera. However, most non-music students would not know that in Rossini’s lifetime, the composer Giovanni Paisiello had written another Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was a big hit in the musical community, and was hailed as Paisiello’s magnum opus. In 1816, when Rossini’s Barber was premiered, the supporters of the old Barber attended the premiere, booing loudly so that none of Rossini’s music could be heard, even sneaking a cat onto the stage. However, time has filtered out Paisiello’s Barber and Rossini emerged triumphant.
Messa da Requiem
Maestro Rossini died in 1868. To honor his contributions to the Italian opera scene, the also great opera composer Giuseppe Verdi grouped together the leading Italian composers to write a movement each of a Requiem Mass, to be published as the Messa per Rossini. However, just 9 days before the premiere, the project fell through. The disappointed Verdi, who had written the Libera Me movement, ended his friendship with the conductor. 4 years later, when the writer Alessandro Manzoni died, Verdi utilized the Libera Me and wrote the remaining movements of the Requiem Mass, forming his fiery and fearsome Messa da Requiem.
Das Lied von der Erde
In Mahler’s time, there was a persistent fear amongst composers of the Curse of the Ninth. Beethoven died with only 9 symphonies completed, and several other composers such as Bruckner and Dvorak has also only have 9 symphonies. In Schoenberg’s words, “It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready.” Mahler was especially terrified of writing his own 9th. Therefore, after his 8th, he combined two of his most proficient forms, the symphony and the art song, and created a “Symphonic Song-cycle”. This is the Das Lied von der Erde, the song of the Earth. With this, Mahler proceeded to writing his 9th, believing to have broken the curse. Unfortunately, he died with his 10th incomplete.
Missa Papae Marcelli
The third session of the Council of Trent was held in 1562-1563. This council was called by the Vatican to reform itself as a counter to Martin Luther’s Reformation. Amongst the many reforms, polyphony was scheduled to be abolished in churches, reverting back to the monophonic Gregorian Chant. In Canon 8, it stated that “the entire manner of singing in musical modes should be calculated not to afford vain delight to the ear”. This is a reaction towards the extremely complicated polyphonic church music that exists in the time. Although it is more aesthetically pleasing, the words sung could no longer be distinguished, and the church felt that it brought religion out of the mass. Palestrina, according to legend, then wrote the Missa Papae Marcelli to demonstrate how polyphony can also be clear. This astounding usage of polyphony convinced the Council to accept polyphony in churches.
The Well-Tempered Clavier
Now that we can play all the keys on a piano, we take it for granted. Back in the Renaissance-Baroque era, all keyboards were tuned to equal temperament. That is that every note has a specific frequency. In so doing, an A on C major would be different from an A on D major. This meant that only certain keys could be played on one keyboard. Well-tempered tuning was introduced to solve this problem. A compromise was made so that, even though slightly out of tune, all keys could be played on a keyboard. This tuning survived to this very day. However, in Bach’s time, composers were still comfortable only in the more conservative keys. To this, Bach wrote the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier, writing a prelude and fugue for every key, from C major to G-sharp minor. With this 48 preludes and fugues in the 24 possible keys, Bach demonstrated the merits of the more obscure keys.
In Symphonie fantastique Berlioz imagines himself, the lovelorn artist, attempting suicide by opium poisoning. He doesn’t administer a lethal dose as intended, but instead succumbs to a deranged, drug-fueled dream in which he has killed his beloved and faces execution for the crime.
When Berlioz finally met Harriet in 1832, she was unaware that she had been the inspiration for this grandiose, grisly vision. They were married the following year and produced a son, but the reality was somewhat different to the fantasist and they separated in 1844.
Source: Limelight Magazine