Research and human experience affirm that certain kinds of music can have a profound effect,
Mozart makes you believe in God because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and leaves such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.” — Georg Solti
It seems like only yesterday that I first heard it. It was so beautiful, so stirring, I was moved down to my very soul.
It was the summer before my third-grade year, while I was visiting family in Morgantown, West Virginia, that my aunt Veronica sat down to play the piano. I hadn’t even known she could play, but boy, could she ever!
What came forth amazed my ears! I’d grown up listening to music, but nothing like this. As my aunt’s fingers so nimbly glided across the expanse of the keyboard, the sounds of Mozart and Tchaikovsky filled the air with a lightness and airiness that’s hard to put into words.
I was hooked from the first moment I heard it.
When I returned home, I told my mom I had to learn to play the piano. It was something I felt driven to do, though we didn’t even own a piano at the time.
Of course, I didn’t want to play just any music—it had to be classical music. This was something that thrilled my eventual piano teacher, Mrs. Rinehart, as all her other students wanted to play pop music. But the pop and rock music I was accustomed to just couldn’t compare, couldn’t produce the same sense of wonder and majesty, that classical music could.
Thus began my journey into the world of classical music.
It Moves the Soul
Just what is it that makes classical music resonate so much with us, that moves us in a way no other music has the power to do?
Clemency Burton-Hill, the author of “Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day,” says, “I believe the greatest works of music are engines of empathy: they allow us to travel without moving into other lives, ages, souls.” She says classical music has benefited her life in a myriad of ways.
Vardinistar says on the website My Story that “Classical music touches a human’s heart and soul, makes him better, gives him ideas and peace. Why do churches like classical music so much? Because it helps to find the connection with God. Not without a reason, people say that classical music is divine.”
He agrees with what the ancients knew to be true, that “classical music can heal your soul and mind because your body reacts to its vibrations, rhythm, tempo.”
The Ancients Views on Music
Ancient cultures were well aware of music’s healing abilities.
Composer Gao Yuan, of the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, explains the importance of music in ancient China.
“Our ancestors believed that music has the power to harmonize a person’s soul in ways that medicine could not. In ancient China, one of music’s earliest purposes was for healing. The Chinese word, or character, for medicine actually comes from the character for music.”
Interestingly, this character also is related to the word happiness. Dimitrios Dermentzioglou, on the site Uplifters, explains how the two relate.
“Medicine is characterized by bitterness, yet a patient is able to regain health and happiness only after suffering its bitterness.”
He notes that the Great Yellow Emperor, known as the forefather of the Chinese people, developed a deep understanding of the power of music after being inspired—by a divine fairy in a dream no less—to use drums to defeat his enemies in battle.
Gao says it was during the Yellow Emperor’s rule that “people discovered the relationship between the pentatonic scale, the five elements, and the human body’s five internal [organs] and five sensory organs.”
He notes that music was also used to influence a person’s behavior.
“During Confucius’s time, scholars used music’s calming properties to improve and strengthen people’s character and conduct.”
Music was also understood as divinely inspired in ancient Greece. The word “music” comes from the Muses, the patron goddesses of creative endeavors. Music and healing were also tied together. The ancient Greeks put one god, Apollo, in charge of both music and healing, demonstrating their belief that the two are closely related.
Hektoen International, the humanities journal owned by the Hektoen Institute of Medicine in Chicago, notes that “The Odyssey told of the bleeding of Odysseus’s wounds from a wild boar only being stopped with a musical incantation, and the poet Pratinas in the 6th century B.C. recorded plague in Sparta being quelled by the music of the composer Thaletas.”
The Greeks believed that music had to resonate with the body and soul in order to be beneficial, and viewed music as a way of connecting the soul of man with the universe.
Modern medicine is rediscovering the many health benefits of music, and particularly, those of classical music.
Modern Medicine and Music
Today, a number of prominent medical institutions incorporate music into their treatment plans.
For example, Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine has formed a choral group called ParkiSonics, where participants with Parkinson’s disease demonstrate improvement in both movement and vocal expression, which are often impaired in Parkinson’s.
“It’s fascinating and powerful to think that music, something that has been floating around in our environment forever—that this natural, omnipresent human activity has demonstrable benefit as treatment,” says Sarah Hoover, co-director of the center, on the center’s website.
Weill Cornell Medicine, a graduate college of Cornell University, has developed a music and medicine program and even formed its own orchestra. They’ve also collaborated with Juilliard to provide mini-concerts for patients and their families, hospital staff, and the surrounding NYC community. They plan to offer a semester-long course to medical students on music and medicine in the future.
Claudius Conrad, M.D., Ph.D., of MD Anderson Cancer Center, is a pianist and surgeon who believes in the healing power of music. He notes on the center’s website, “in the Middle Ages, popular prescriptions involved specific musical combinations. The example he offers involves alternating between playing the flute and harp to alleviate gout.”
During his fellowship in ICU medicine, Conrad conducted a study on his patients and found a novel stress pathway that mediates music relaxation. He discovered that some intensive care patients could be spared sedative medication when listening to classical music.
The medicinal effects of classical music have been studied by researchers for more insight into their healing potential.