By Richard P. Holm, MD
When asking a group of friends how important music is to them, I heard a lot of answers. “Music must live in our brains somewhere close to where emotions reside.” “Think of how the plot of a movie is moved by the music, from The Wizard of Oz and Jaws, to Star Wars and the Sound of Music”. One friend told me, “I have music in my life every day.” My wife Joanie said, “If I am grumpy, put on a waltz and my bad mood goes away.” Another friend said, “Music dips into the deepest aspects of my soul.”
Almost everyone enjoys music of some type, whether it be classical, country, hip hop, blues, or jazz. But music can be for so much more than pure enjoyment. It can enhance feelings and memories of suspense, fear, compassion, sadness, and happiness. There is scientific data to show that music therapy significantly helps improve physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being. Music therapy is commonly prescribed for treating medical illnesses, physical and developmental disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and neurological impairment. Music therapists are now working in hospitals, psychiatric centers, nursing homes, rehab centers, schools, daycare facilities, substance abuse centers, and hospice programs.
I have the privilege to sing with a voice-only choir called the Hopeful Spirit Chorale. Almost every week, we sing for an individual who is either sick at home, in the hospital or nursing home, receiving help from hospice, recovering from an illness, or who simply would appreciate it. We sing well-known hymns and non-religious songs mostly in four-part harmony. One choir member said, “we are caring people lifting the spirits of others with a nice gift of music.” However, music is one of those gifts that gives back as much, if not more, as is given. There is an unexplainable thing that often happens with that choir when the music is just right. A spiritual connection shivers through everyone’s bones; tears may flow, and the individual and family being sang to feels loved.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but when I try to define what God is to me, the great mystery is at least partially explained when, in song, the harmonic spirit embraces my soul and brings balm to my fears and suffering.