Harp Therapy: Music As Medication

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While the nation hyperventilates over health care, more sober souls in academia are contending that music may be as good as medicine, and at a fraction of the price.

musicmed main i
iStockphoto.com
musicmed main
iStockphoto.com

I am by no means a health care pundit, but I do know for certain that listening to the dizzying debate has spiked my blood pressure to dangerous levels. Being a musician by trade, I firmly believe that the health of the nation would improve by leaps and bounds if we would all turn off the news and turn up the Mozart. And I'm not alone: Academics take this kind of stuff quite seriously — exploring such questions as whether violins could be as effective as Vicodin for controlling pain.

Solo instruments in particular have the capacity to wind their way around your brain cells like silk thread. Again, the eggheads back me up on this stuff. Hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, have employed harpists to help patients heal. I wonder if "harp therapy" is reimbursable, or if a pre-existing love of classical music disqualifies one for coverage?

Apparently, it's not just longhair music that benefits mood and healing. Familiarity is also a key factor. Suzanne Hanser, chairperson of the Music Therapy Department at the Berklee College of Music, says that what counts is "the kinds of memories, feelings and associations that a piece of music brings to mind." Who knew the iPod could replace the serotonin reuptake inhibitor? Or that Metallica could heal as well as howl?

Recent research details the benefits of listening to music while recovering from knee or hip surgery. Improved cognition and a decrease in confusion were reported, which might just be the recipe for some of those town-hall meetings that have been getting folks so worked up. Language and music share certain neural pathways, but shouting doesn't hold a candle to a voice more dedicated to melody than quarreling.

It's about time the health care system got around to what department-store owners have known for years. If playing the right kind of Muzak can subliminally influence you to buy a food processor, a bit of jazz might persuade us to breathe more deeply or to dilate the blood vessels. Pipe some of that into the halls of Congress. Could a tiny dose of harmony do any harm?

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