by Marc Gendron
Music has long been used for entertainment and recreation. And now for outpatients at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, Calif., it may be just what the doctor ordered.
Through a unique partnership with Yamaha Music & Wellness Institute, Inc., in Meadville, Pa, Saint Agnes Medical Center is bringing the healing benefits of music to patient care through its new Therapeutic Music Lab – the first of its kind in the country.
The Lab features five Yamaha Clavinovas – specialized digital pianos that allow individuals with limited physical capabilities, no musical knowledge and no prior training to experience the joy of creating music. With the instrument’s StarLIGHTS technology and lush orchestral background – and the guidance of a trained facilitator – players are making music as soon as their fingers touch the keys.
Jose Haro, 67, of Fresno can attest to the healing power of the program. “I had a quadruple bypass, and I hurt all the time, he says. “I’ve been in rehab for one and a half months.”
Haro, who plays the trombone, thought it would be fun to plunk piano keys with one finger. But he never imagined something so simple could have such a positive effect on his body.
Twenty minutes into the first session, he loosened the brace he wears around his chest. “I was searching for my pain, but it was gone,” Haro says. Now when I come in to play music, I feel like I’m 39.”
In 2004, a team of scientists, led by neurologist and Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute President & CEO Barry Bittman, MD, conducted landmark research demonstrating that music actually alters the body’s biological responses to stress. According to the study, which was published in the February 2005 issue of Medical Science Monitor, music has far greater reversal of stress-induced changes at the DNA level than typical relaxation activities. These findings, according to Bittman, could have a phenomenal impact on treating high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses.
Outpatients are referred to the Saint Agnes Therapeutic Music Lab by their physician or other sources. During the 45- to 60-minute sessions, a trained facilitator leads four participants – each person at his or her own piano – through breathing exercises, interactive drum rhythms and melody sounds.
“When we’re stressed or ill, our bodies are out of tune,” Therapeutic Music Lab coordinator Myrna Bolger-Taul said. “Musical vibrations can help our bodies get back in balance and functioning regularly.”
Exercises can also be tailored to specific patient conditions. What may best suit a heart attack survivor may be completely different for a patient facing respiratory difficulties. Saint Agnes has also opened the program to its employees as a way of alleviating workplace stress.
Bolger-Taul has long known the healing power of music. Working with terminally
ill patients through Saint Agnes Hospice 20 years ago, Bolger-Taul began incorporating music into patient visits. Soon after, she began playing music for cancer patients in the hospital, which evolved into the creation of a formal Humor and Music Program at the Medical Center 13 years ago. Through the Humor and Music Program, patients have access to videotapes, music, reading materials and entertainment to help relieve the tensions and anxiety that often accompany hospital stays.
“I could see a need,” Bolger-Taul says. “I thought that if we could cut down on some of the stress issues, we’d have a greater chance of keeping our bodies in a state of wellness.”
The idea of creating a therapeutic Music Lab began two years ago, after Bolger-Taul learned about Yamaha’s unique program. Generous donations from the community have allowed the Medical Center to purchase three $10,000 classroom pianos. And to enhance the program even more, the Yamaha Wellness Institute donated a fourth piano
and loaned a fifth – further affirming the merit of this new musical venture.
“It’s these kinds of interactions that make you realize that you are doing something that’s going to be appreciated,” Bolger-Taul says. “It’s going to have value.”