Wendy Elliott: Music therapy improves health

Published on April 19, 2017

Wendy Elliott Column

Acadia University is one of the few post secondary institutions in the country that offers the Bachelor of Music Therapy program and a Certificate of Music Therapy program. The programs are not that well known and student Stephanie Maxwell is keen to improve the profile of her major.  

According to Stephanie, some municipalities across Canada hold music-filled marches to boost awareness, but I thought I’d share my support for the practice.
Music therapy is essentially a healing mechanism when used by accredited music therapists. My first experience was unorthodox, but memorable. It happened in the old Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital.
I’d just given birth to our third rascal and since he had a touch of jaundice we stayed in the maternity ward a couple of days longer.
Because the Wolfville hospital wasn’t all that big, there was an ordinary private room on the same hallway where an elderly woman lay there dying by degrees. She wasn’t conscious, but lay peacefully. I was convinced it was because classical music tapes were playing almost continually.
Often her daughter sat with her and we would chat a bit. She kept the tape player going, but the nurses came in regularly too and changed the music. There wasn’t much else they could do.
Then one morning I went into the hallway and she was gone. Her bed was stripped and her life had ended so calmly. I was convinced the music helped her pass out of this world. How wonderful that the EKM held both the beginning and end of life — both uncompartmentalized.
So when my mother developed Alzheimer’s disease and was often distressed in a nursing home setting, I got in touch with a music therapy student each year. She, they were all female, came in once a week to practise on Mom. It wasn’t long before Mom was happily singing Bicycle Built for Two and Goodnight Irene.
Those skilled at using music can promote many aspects of health. From what I’ve read, the results of music therapists in the Alzheimer’s community have been incredible. The skill set aids premature infants, those individuals living with autism and others.
Nowadays I think I self medicate with choral music from time to time — can’t hurt. Having two kids who were Annapolis Valley Honour Choir and provincial youth choir members turned me into a choral junkie. The fix from music can be emotional, psychological, emotional and even spiritual.
So before Easter, a friend and I took a trip to the city to hear the St. John Passion performed by the University of King’s College Chapel Choir. What a lift those two hours of Bach offered. To me there is something peace inducing about Baroque music.
It’s no wonder really that we are drawn to the music we love, then that natural response tunes in both mind and body. For most of us, music is a key part of our daily lives whether you love rock or folk.
What a treat that whatever tunes you like can be channelled into a cost-effective, non-invasive therapy.
The next time your favourite song comes on the radio and you find yourself tapping your feet don’t fight it. Focus on the positive power of music because it can improve your health.