We may not think too much about the sounds we are exposed to everyday, but our bodies react to those frequencies in ways we are only beginning to understand.
Our understanding of sound waves and the potentials for sound and music is expanding as rapidly as the universe around us. We see examples of how sound might be used as a weapon in recent news stories about US diplomats developing strange symptoms that might be attributed to exposure to ultra-high frequencies. But then we also see an Alzheimer’s patient listening to music and coming to life and realize the healing potential of Music Therapy.
The idea of Music Therapy is not new and we would do ourselves a favor by looking back at what some of the best thinkers and musicians have said about this subject.
Most of my generation grew up taking a music class through grade school, but our schools’ main mission was to drill us on the “Three R’s:” Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Music was secondary at best, and by junior high was seen as something only the gifted need pursue.
But the Greeks saw Music as an essential part of education and of a healthy life in general. At the center of their curriculum was the Quadrivium, which included Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy; and the Trivium, consisting of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. So in their thinking, Music was just as important as understanding math and the movement of the stars, and more important than speaking intelligently.
They created ways of organizing sounds into modes, like Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian (which musicians still use today as major and minor scales and their variants). They theorized about which combinations of sounds (intervals) were beneficial and which ones were dangerous. Sound itself was seen as a powerful tool that could either damage or repair a person's health.
We can see the connection between sound and health in our language. When one is competent and clear-headed enough to reach a rational judgment or commit to something legally binding, we say they are of “sound mind and body,” and we might pay heed if someone gave us some “sound advice.”
Etymologists who study the roots of words and their meanings tell us this definition of the word “sound” comes from the Latin word sanus, meaning “sanity, of sound mind” and is reflected in the phrase “Mens sana, in corpore sano.” This was handed down to Germanic and Middle English cultures in the word Gesund (healthy).
By the 14th Century, the definition of “sound” as being “free from special defect or injury, having the organs and faculties complete and in perfect action” was the most common definition of the word in use. Today’s legal definition comes from this root.
But are we missing the real connection?
Enter, The American Music Therapy Association: Modern day healing professionals that have been compiling journal articles, scientific studies, and ancient anecdotes to piece together a field of medicine centered on sound and its ability to affect “physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”
Neurophysicists have long agreed that music can affect the way we see the world. Studies that measure the brain’s reaction to sound have proven that music is not just a generic sonic mass in our daily lives, but a complex chemistry of controllable elements.
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life;” a quote that has been around for over a century and recited by artists from Art Blakey to Pablo Picasso.
Maybe it is even more powerful than that. A good night’s sleep goes a long way when battling any illness and disease, and relaxing therapeutic music can help achieve that.