Music and Miracles
From as far back in time as human history has been recorded, music has filled our lives. It has been a part of almost every important moment we’ve lived. And it has shaped us in ways few people have even begun to consider.
Don Campbell is direct about how important he believes music can be. He titled one of his books Music, Physician for Times to Come. Campbell, founder of the Institute of Music, Health and Education, in Boulder, Colorado, is one of the most passionate proponents of music as healer, energizer, brain booster and all-around life enhancer in America, if not the world. He can demonstrate, and wants us all to understand that sound is a vital element of any environment, especially a healing environment. And he makes a strong distinction between “elevator music and elevating music.”
Although he is most known to the public for his best-selling book, The Mozart Effect, Campbell has written some eighteen books in all. He has also produced more than twenty tapes and CDs, with material that includes beautiful original compositions, spoken word instruction on using the voice to heal, and renowned compilations of classics. He is emphatic that many kinds of music, including the sounds of nature, positively impact how we feel, learn, heal, and even communicate. He has explored how the brain, heart (physical and emotional) and spirit respond to different types of rhythm, melody, and harmony. And he recommends we open to a musical diet that will feed us in exciting, nurturing, balancing ways. Campbell's insights can help us avoid habitual consumption of too much musical tofu, acoustic sugar or sonic caffeine. There's definitely room in his universe for The Cleveland Orchestra, sacred Indian ragas AND Bruce Springsteen.
Studies of sound and music provide a solid, functional interface between modern science and the alternative healing/spiritual wisdom traditions. Campbell's work, with that of others, offers comprehensive, powerful guidance on how body-mind-spirit interconnection can be developed and strengthened via sound. That enhancement in turn can help us pump up creativity, relaxation, healing and spirituality.
Music’s importance has been understood for millennia. Plato believed that the strongest of all life’s influences is music; he taught that tone and musical intervals created “the world soul.” Pythagoras spoke in the sixth century B.C. of “the music of the spheres,” a numeric potency and logic that vibrates through all things. Plotinus wrote in the third century that music permeated the cosmos. And the Hindu tradition taught of the Great Tone, Nada Brahma, from which God made the world, and which resonates through everything. These perceptions would help explain, as sound researcher, producer, and composer Joshua Leeds has said, that “Sound is a nutrient for the brain and can either charge or discharge the nervous system. We can consciously use sound to enhance life …”
Many reputable studies indicate how beneficial the right kinds of sound and music can be in children’s development. We know that the ear is the first sense organ to develop in the womb, and that the auditory system becomes functional three to four months before birth. Exposure to particular sounds can affect the development of the auditory system in structural and functional ways. Music can calm or stimulate the movement and heart rate of a baby in the womb. A newborn or young infant can be soothed by recordings of the maternal heartbeat, music whose rhythm matches the heartbeat’s normal pace, or classical music that the baby heard frequently before birth. And visual tracking, eye-hand coordination, and other positive behaviors developed more rapidly in babies whose mothers participated in a program of prenatal exposure to specific music. (This information comes from Don Campbell’s The Mozart Effect for Children.)
Music affects mood, as anyone who has heard Mozart, Duke Ellington, ZZ Top or Fifty Cent can attest. Studies find that music actually impacts how we psychologically see what we see. Subjects asked to “rate the moods of faces” were strongly influenced by the music they listened to just beforehand. After listening to depressing music, subjects judged neutral faces to express rejection and sadness even though scientific, objective criteria held such emotions were not present. A similar study found that music influenced how depressing or how positive specific paintings were seen to be. Carl Jung himself once said, “I feel from now on music should be part of every analysis.”
Shamans have used music in their spiritual and healing rituals for millennia. The rhythm of drum, rattle, bell and chant promote altered states of consciousness that lead to profound spiritual connection and intuitive awareness. Sometimes sound is used to “loosen up” spiritual intrusions – negative energy in the body – so they can be removed. Or a shaman may “prescribe” a power chant, a brief song whose repetition over time brings empowerment, balance and physical or emotional relief.
Music in operating rooms made surgeons calmer, more accurate, and speedier, according to a 1994 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It promotes relaxation and the lessening of pain in patients following surgery. And it has been used to increase movement capacity in moribund patients. Music is an asset to physical and emotional well-being in all healing environments. This brings us back to Don Campbell.
Campbell and his partners in Aesthetics, Inc. provided the complete acoustic and artistic design for the Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center, a $175 million hospital in Boulder, Colorado. Using a library of some 5,000 recordings which include everything from New England loon calls to Spanish guitar to a Brahms lullaby – played whenever a baby is born – Campbell created a series of “Harmonic Zones,” each of which is modified twenty four hours a day. And it’s not just constant sound. It’s just the right sonic touch in just the right space at just the right time to give a boost or a caress, as needed. Campbell has also worked with The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, in the MusiCure Project, a study that involves pre- and post-surgery acoustic design for health care.
In an interview from his home in Boulder, Campbell expressed concern about how much our culture doesn’t attend to the way sound impacts us.
“Our homes are so noisy with TV, cell phones, telephone, email, Nintendo, air conditioners, bells, whistles, washers and dryers. Young children can be overwhelmed,” he said. “They have very sensitive ears that are overexposed to sound. And loud sounds are always bad. Unfocused sound can really cause types of dissociative disorders, attention deficits,” and other difficulties that seem endemic today. “We have to get our act together…. We’re moving beyond the naiveté of New Age thinking. We must be more grounded, more practical, more filled with common sense,” Campbell stressed. Even in our musical diet. “Just because it’s ‘nice’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”
Campbell spoke of the fact that sound-and-music-based interventions now help “modify speech, language and thinking disorders.” He asked that we all be aware of the International Conference on Sound Healing, in Santa Fe, and Music and Healing in American Society, at the University of Colorado. These are major events that will shape how we understand and use the power of music in our lives.
“We need to know how we can improve our life with good music; how we can improve our mind by arranging the sound we live in,” Campbell said in closing. (Information on Don Campbell, his work and recommendations can be found at www.mozarteffect.com.)
Music is a primordial, powerful force. It shapes the world. To live a balanced life and promote optimal healing, it is necessary to learn how to listen better, more consciously. And to listen to better, healthier things.
©2006, 2008 Stephen Neal Szpatura
An earlier version of this article appeared in Balanced Living Magazine, www.balancedlivingmag.com
Stephen Neal Szpatura