Music as medicine

New York Times Musical Pharmacology – Concerto in the Key of RX gives some interesting insights in efforts to marry music to the healing sciences. Most of this stuff is in the early stages of investigation and trial, but it all rings true.

Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in neurocognition of music and language at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, agrees, and is working on participatory musical treatments for depression. But in the long term, he sees broader possibilities. “Physiologically, it’s perfectly plausible that music would affect not only psychiatric conditions but also endocrine, autonomic and autoimmune disorders,” he said. “I can’t say music is a pill to abolish these diseases. But my vision is that we can come up with things to help. This work is so important. So many pills have horrible side effects, both physiological and psychological. Music has no side effects, or no harmful ones.”

One discovery is that if the music is too familiar or has identifiable words it does not have the same effect as “anonymous music.” I suspect that’s one of the reasons why kirtan chants and Sanskrit lyrics are so appealing.