As seen in the Spring 2013 edition of the Steinway Chronicle.
What’s in the music that makes us feel good? Scientists and musicians travel different paths, but they ultimately reach common ground when it comes to the countless ways it can improve the quality of our lives.
Simply put, our brains are pattern seekers and pattern generators. “We like rhythm and organization, and the inherent structure of music has these characteristics,” explains Dr. Kamal Chèmali, a neurologist with Sentara Health Care Center and founder of the Sentara Music and Medicine Center in Norfolk, Va. “When the patterns in music are familiar, or when they change unexpectedly, we have physiological and psychological reactions. These changes contribute to our well-being while listening to music.”
Anecdotal evidence has been around since the days of Hippocrates, but modern technology captures the healing power of music in no uncertain terms. With the addition of tools such as neuroimaging and complex blood testing, more institutions are realizing the importance of music in the therapeutic process.
Dr. Chèmali says functional MRIs reveal changes in the brain after patients are exposed to music, reflecting activation of different structures which seem to mediate musical perception. “The interest of these findings is that this activation can occur in damaged areas of the brain and contribute to the reactivation of non-functional neurons or the creation of new neuronal connections. This, in turn, can explain the regain in function (such as gait or language rehabilitation) observed with musical therapeutic interventions.”
This technologically-driven phenomenon has significant implications from an institutional perspective. Music is making a difference in hospitals, mental health centers, correctional facilities, schools, special education classrooms, long term care and senior centers. On top of reducing pain and anxiety, board-certified therapists look to music to evoke positive changes in mood and respiration, improve social skills, promote long term memory and solve problems, among other things.
Dr. Chèmali observes that Art and Science have always walked hand in hand, but eventually grew apart because of increasing complexity and demands, resulting in a loss of humanization of science and decreased awareness of the scientific merits of the arts. The Music and Medicine movement brings both fields closer again, requiring greater collaboration between physician-scientists and professional musicians.
Research is booming, which has led, in part, to the creation of the Sentara Music and Medicine Center — one of a select group of prestigious medical institutions employing music to treat patients. Sentara established an international artist-in-residence program to aid in the effort.
“The leaders of our organization have perceived very well the importance of bringing music to our patients at the highest possible artistic level, in order to improve treatment outcome and increase patient satisfaction,” says Dr. Chèmali, who also serves as Medical Director for the Sentara Center for Music and Medicine and previously co-founded the Cleveland Clinic Arts and Medicine Institute. “Our search for high artistic quality necessitated that we acquire the best available musical instruments, hence our choice of Steinway Model D and B pianos.”
The Steinways appear in different Sentara venues, being enjoyed at concerts for hospital patients and the general public, as well as dual purpose lectures/performances for the medical and musical communities.
It’s just what the doctor ordered.