“so he gave me these sounds”

image by el Kabir via flickr

I saw Regina Spektor in concert the other night and I nearly cried at such beauty. I wasn’t alone. The emotion in that theatre was so ripe you could taste it.

There is a passage in my novel where the main character muses on music, in particular one foreign to her.

“She had only to see the reaction to its lilting tones of [those] raised on its melodies, man or woman, young or old, to see how their eyes softened as arms were lifted and hands swayed serpentine, how the play of notes and strings provoked in them not only an emotional but also a physical response. She knew that this intimacy, this bond of people to their music was, like the bond between mother and child, impenetrable.”

Music’s effect on us is not only powerful but it is personal. It is utterly unpredictable, primitive and pure. It transforms and heals us. We’ve known this forever, since the very first time a mother sang soothingly to her child.

The Greek philosophers wrote of its power, the Arabs not only grasped the potential of using music as a therapy but documented the varying effects of different tonalities, which they applied widely and with specificity based on the patient’s ethnicity, illness and the time of day of the treatment.

In 13th century Cairo, a public hospital was built by the Sultan and staffed by the best and the brightest of physicians from all over the world. The hospital deed said (and I include this only because it is so incredible in light of our current health care crisis):

“The hospital shall keep all patients, men and women until they are completely recovered. All costs are to be borne by the hospital whether the people come from afar or near; whether they are residents or foreigners, strong or weak, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, blind or sighted, physically or mentally ill…”

Wait, there’s more (and here’s the part about music):

The hospital had 8000 beds. Each patient had his own bed made of wood or palm slats, with pillows and covering. Everyone was provided with proper food and medicine.

The administrator in charge supervised the laboratories, where medicines were prepared and bottled as well as the kitchen where meats, chickens, juices and soups were cooked.

Patients were entertained by popular story-tellers and musical bands following the Greek tradition of providing music for comforting and curing purposes. There were also separate chapels to provide religious services for both Muslims and Christians.

Other premises included an in-house pharmacy, a library and lecture halls for medical students. Physicians were always available at all times together or in shifts.   (From The Mag of Egypt).

There is great work being done, creative collaborations of scientists and therapists, physicians and healthcare workers, to use music in new ways as complements to treatments for, among other things, autism, dementia, brain injury, depression, memory loss…

Ibn Sina said in the early 11th century, “One of the best and most effective of treatments is to strengthen the mental and spiritual strengths of the patient, to give him more courage to fight illness, create a loving, pleasant environment for the patient, play the best music for him and surround him with people that he loves.”

Well that’s what they’ve done with Henry, and here is his story, which I came across via the brilliant Dr. Oliver Sacks:

The footage of Henry’s transformation is an excerpt from a documentary produced and directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett called “Alive Inside.”

Fill an ipod with some music and give someone a whole world. How great is that?

More information at http://www.musicandmemory.org.




8 thoughts on ““so he gave me these sounds”

      1. Haha I am two steps from finishing my HUGE HUGE HUGE final for one of my education classes – stresses me out just thinking about it and I have to edit my memoir, and read four other ones and then I will commence reading. YES!

  1. Bravo! Loved the vid, thank you! I’m such a strong believer in the power of music. There have been many walks that turned into jogs because Pandora kept playing fab songs. Henry finds his ‘soul’ after being ‘dead’…if I’m ever in a coma, I do hope someone thinks to play some jazz… ~

  2. Don’t even get me started on the power of music (which happens to factor into the novel I just finished as well). Even if modern health care is too ruled by economics and the proverbial bottom line, it’s a little heartening to read about the different ways music is being used as an adjunct to treatment. And, for what it’s worth, there’s an article by William McNeill that I go back to often for this quote: “As I argued in my book, ‘Keeping Together in Time,’ rhythmic voicing and dance had the effect of dissipating personal rivalries and enhancing a warm feeling of togetherness among participants, as community song and dance and other rhythmic exercises — aerobics, marching in step, grandstand cheering, and the like — still do.”

    1. Oh yes! Rhythmic voicing and dance… I often think of how intrinsic this is in so many cultures yet how it has become compartmentalized or even lost in ours. All it takes is to watch a child to see how singing and moving is the most natural way of expressing a whole gamut of feeling, and doing it with others even more so.

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