Classical Music as Medicine

Instrumental healing: Tustin violinist turns lifelong hobby into music therapy for hospital patients – Orange County Register

One recent study uses classical music as a treatment for high blood pressure. Researchers took 90 men and women aged 40-74, and divided them into three groups. One group listened to music on a regular basis; another group took part in something called laughter yoga (where you force yourself to laugh until it starts to feel natural) while the third group served as a control, receiving neither music nor laughter.

At the end of the study, both the classical music group and the laughing group had lower blood pressure. And here’s the really good news: the difference was about the same as it would be if you lost 10 pounds or cut salt out of your diet (and I know what I’d rather do!)

Dr. Joanne Loewy uses live music during general anesthesia to sedate a patient before surgery

Another study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Music and Medicine, looked at recovery times for procedures such as hip or knee surgery. People in the study listened to music for at least 4 hours a day, with a control group who didn’t listen to any music.

The result? People who got the dose of music along with their other post-op medications recovered more quickly. Specifically, the music group tested significantly higher in the area of confusion and mental cognition than the control group. Given that reduced confusion and more cognition can equal less time in hospital, this musical study could have very real implications for health care.

Meanwhile, a doctor in Boston is investigating the connections between classical music and surgery.

Dr Claudius Conrad grew up studying music; he became quite an accomplished pianist before he turned to medicine. Now that he’s a surgeon, he sometimes listens to recordings of himself playing Mozart during operations. Conrad says there’s a clear connection: “In surgery, you do something that is comparable to a concert,” he says,” and like a concert situation, in surgery you want to do the most beautiful work you can under the most stress.”

Dr. Claudius Conrad has studied how the mechanisms of Mozart’s music seemed to ease the pain of some patients. Credit C.J. Gunther for The New York Times

Finally, here’s an inspiring story from an orchestra in England. The Royal Liverpool Orchestra has won a very special award; not a Grammy or a Gramophone Award, but a special commendation for “Innovative and Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Arts and Health Practice” from the Royal Society for Public Health. The commendation celebrates the orchestra’s  Musician in Residence Program.

Members of the Royal Liverpool Orchestra bring their instruments into mental health wards to play for people with problems like depression, dementia, or brain injuries. From what the patients and staff say, there’s a very real benefit. Just having a symphony musician come and play for them makes people feel special. If there’s a chance to play, or sing along, that’s even better, helping make patients feel less isolated, more relaxed and confident, taking them outside their world of mental illness.

As the judging panel put it, “The Musician in Residence program is great value for money and it works. It aids recovery… (and) it would not be possible without the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and some very talented musicians.”

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