Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Music, Medicine, and Unconstrained Joy

By Lise Alschuler, ND

Photo by Sunny J via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

I was on a business trip recently. After a full day in meetings, my colleague and I went out to dinner. As we were walking back to our car, we passed by a wine bar with some musicians in a front alcove. The muffled beat followed us as we passed by. We both simultaneously slowed down and stopped. Sure, why not? Let’s just stop in for a bit. We headed back into the wine bar, ordered a glass of delicious wine, and sat back. It has been a long time since I have sat back and enjoyed the sound of live music. The musicians were good, the seats comfortable, the wine rich. It was all good. The most inspiring aspect of the evening for me, though, was watching the musicians as they played. One fellow, a guitarist and singer, cradled his guitar like it was a newborn baby and swayed and dipped into his music as if he were the music itself. The drummer had this beatific expression on his face, further brightened with little smiles as he placed certain beats in the music just so. As I sat there watching, I realized I was witnessing complete, unimpeded, joyous immersion. These musicians met their music completely, head on and all out.

Later, as I was back in my hotel room, in the after glows of a good evening, I thought about how this display of uninhibited joy was exactly the thing that transforms a helpful encounter between doctor and patient into a truly healing one. With practiced knowledge of our medicine, faith in ourselves, openness to our patients, and a love for what we are doing, we too can make music. When all of these attributes come together into one encounter and we are in our groove, we become our own music, we are the healing. Given all of the constraints of the medical system, our schedules, the paperwork, our determination to do the right thing, it is actually quite hard to find, and stay in, this place of unconstrained joy as practitioners. And yet, these very constraints are like the constraints to the musician imposed by the scales, the frets, the rhythms – the musician utilizes these as a foundation for immersion into the music. When we practitioners allow ourselves to do the same, we too groove and sway to our own medicine. Our patients can’t help but relax and start tapping their toes and nodding their heads right in time with us. Healing is found and released right here and wafts its way into the cool night air.

1 comment:

  1. The subject of ’music as medicine’ has achieved very much attention in recent years, mainly because of the remarkable research in this area, but also because many healthcare professionals have positive experiences with music – as described here.
    With this comment I just want to contribute with a bit of information about the specially designed and clinically documented music program “MusiCure” by the Danish composer Niels Eje. As project coordinator and musician (cello) I have been involved in both the creation and the research, which have been going on in Scandinavia since 1998. Controlled clinical tests and studies have, among a lot of other positive effects, shown that MusiCure can reduce our body’s production of stress hormone cortisol significantly, and diminish the use of pain medicine (morphine) in school-aged children who had undergone surgery – and generally provide inspiration and motivation to people seeking a tool for relaxation and stress relief in everyday life.
    For more information see: (the research behind the music) and (about the music and the composer) – see also a concentrated version of the whole story about MusiCure in a 5 minute documentary at YouTube:
    Inge Mulvad, e-mail: