Most, but maybe not all, of you know that I'm a professional singer by trade. I studied classical voice at the Eastman School of Music, where I also met my husband Jeff. I've sung with the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Opera Company, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, but the majority of my career has been as a studio singer in LA. I've sung on a lot of film and TV scores, albums, commercials. Heck, you may have even heard me, and not realized it. link to credits
Music continues to be my passion. But my interest in music has changed over the years. Especially as I watched how music affected Jeff. After his diagnosis with MS, it was listening to music which would ease his neuropathic pain and calm his anxieties. When he recommitted himself to his craft of composition, conducting and performing, I watched him heal. Music was part of his new lifestyle. One which incorporated a new way of eating, exercising, meditating, living. His venoplasty procedure at Stanford allowed him even more energy to pursue his passion. We watched his brain heal on subsequent MRIs. Link to Jeff talking about music, CCSVI and MS
Music is universal. The images I've linked below are from a recent study. They show six different human brains listening to music, while scanned with fMRI. The brains on the left listened to J. S. Bach's first invention-- a gorgeous classical work which is a 2 voice fugue, originally composed as an exercise for Bach's sons. Here is the great Glenn Gould. link to Bach's 1st Invention
The people whose brains were scanned were not musicians, or at all familiar with the piece. However, there is activation across most brain regions, as shown by the orange color of activity on the scans. Notice how the images all look almost exactly the same, no matter the age, socio-economic status or health of the participant. Bach touched their brains in the same way. Bach made their brains become alert, energized, activated.
On the right are the same peoples' brains listening to self-selected music-- which they chose because they loved how it made them feel. Notice how now the brain is activated in different regions, but the effect is one of calming and oxygenation--as shown by the color blue. This is the power of the music we love on our brains---it calms and soothes us, releases our emotions, heals us.
Why is this important? Physicians are now using self-selected music in psychiatric hospital settings to calm and "medicate" patients, and give them hope and healing. Music therapists are using different playlists to work with stroke patients, to help them regain balance, brain function, and health. Music is being employed as medicine. link
I saw this in action last year, in a ground-breaking hospital, where a classically trained composer and fellow Eastman alumnus, J. Todd Frazier, has created a program which is changing music therapy. New imaging modality is showing us what happens to the human brain on music. He believes we were created to be music makers, listeners, participants. Music is essential to humanity. link to more info on J. Todd Frazier
Here is the abstract for the published paper the fMRI image is taken from. Todd was one of the authors on this study. While in Houston, I also met with Dr. Karmonik, the world renowned MRI imaging expert behind these studies---and he is not a musician, but he has become a believer in the brain altering power of music. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27464741
"The researchers found distinct brain activation patterns for the different music pieces. The self-selected pieces, which Frazier says were quite diverse, brought about significant activity in the emotion and memory centers of the brain, while unfamiliar music activated attention and memory areas. Karmonik notes that, despite such different self-selected musical pieces, the patterns of brain activity were remarkably similar.
“We showed a similar connectivity pattern in the brains of these individuals in the self-selected music,” he says. “This is important because it shows it’s the music. That music really drives all of these brain processes even if you are of a different age, gender, or background. That familiar music really seems to do something for everybody.”
Having spent time with J. Todd Frazier, in meetings and in the hospital he has changed, I've become a believer. Todd's original desire was to prove the importance of music education---he was frustrated by the perception that music was not essential in schools, that music was merely entertainment. As the son of a physician, he knew better, and set out to change this perception. But now his mission is even greater. He wants to use music to heal.
Since meeting Todd, I've wanted to bring this program to other hospitals, to more patients, to future music therapists and researchers. And that is why I became more involved as a trustee at the University of Rochester. Thankfully, other trustees and administrators agreed with Todd. The Eastman School of Music and University of Rochester Medical Center will now begin a collaborative music and medicine program, to further understand and utilize the healing power of music.
So, what can you do, today, to incorporate this science? I would recommend putting together a 30 minute playlist of your very favorite music. This should include music you are very familiar with, music which makes you feel something beautiful. Every day, when you need to relax --go to a quiet place and listen to your familiar music playlist with headphones. Breathe deeply and let the music wash over you. You are oxygenating your brain.
You should also explore new music in styles that you enjoy, but are not as familiar with. When you are feeling terrific and energized already, try listening to this new music. Let it further activate and stimulate your brain. Try dancing or moving to the music in any way you can. You are increasing neuronal pathways.
I hope this science gives you some hope and encouragement. We can do so many things to heal our own brains--by adding music to nutrition, exercise, sunshine, meditation, sleep. Our complete solution to chronic illness will never be found in one pill or infusion. Healing means living in a new way.