Healing with music

Carnatic vocal exponent Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam  

Is there better proof of music therapy than a lullaby that puts a child to sleep? Music appreciation begins right in the womb, with the foetus listening to the mother's heartbeat and her choice of music. It has been proved that after birth, the child shows an inclination to listen to what it heard as a foetus.

A small time musician and organiser of music sabhas, veteran Ananda Mohan vouches he falls sleep when he sets electronic tambura in low volume and comfortable shruti. “This replaces sedatives prescribed by doctor,” he says.

Indian music therapy is an integration of ancient healing practices and musical traditions coupled with modifications derived by current clinical practices. ‘Music Therapy' is a commonly heard phrase though not much in vogue in India. This idea was popularised in south by Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna. He even put in effect some effort in this direction. Spiritual guru Ganapathi Satchidananda of Mysore is an active practitioner of music therapy with the help of some reputed musicians of the south. Of course he adds a pinch of spiritualism and calls it ‘Naada Chikitsa'. Raga Chikistsa was the original Sanskrit treatise that dealt with curative ragas with mood-enhancing characteristics, used in clinical application.

Vedic lore says ‘Samaveda' paved the way for music. Perfect chant with apt stress on each syllable of ‘Mantra' emanates its own power. Experiments with sound and its effects proved that the ‘Omkara' Nadam in a particular frequency sounds as though lifting mortal soul to celestial heights. And sound beyond certain decibels can send some to psychiatric care. Some Indian ragas when sung well said to have caused rains, eased disturbed persons, and even led to crops and cattle giving a better yield. Apparently some ragas are earmarked for the nine emotions or Navarasas. Some ragas, claim musicians, have healing effects as these nine emotions rule our body and mind.

Across the world, physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists are seeking the help of music therapists for better results. Music therapy is now an established health profession. In this system the doctor first assesses the needs of the patient. A qualified music therapist indicates what choice of raga and tala and whether it is vocal or instrumental music that suits the patient. While instruments provide a continuous melodic pleasure, vocal music adds a pinch of spiritual element through the lyrical content.

A serious music therapy session too requires case study to first assess whether this medium of therapy can be extended to improve motor and emotional skills for effective treatment. Music is more suited for palliative care and hence should always be combined with traditional treatment. In some hospitals, even in India, mellow music is played to divert and relax patients. Behavioural disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety and autism suit music therapy, say doctors.

There is also what is called ‘Melodic Intonation Therapy' that corrects speech disorders. Stroke therapy yields better fast results if music therapy is added, say doctors. This proficiency needs knowledge in theory and practice of music with added creative skills ( manodharma).

Music therapy is said to have been practiced from Biblical times. Aristotle described music as a force that purified emotions. Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, was said to have been playing music to treat his mental patients. It is said that 13th century Arab hospitals had music rooms attached. Mental trauma of soldiers in war fields is addressed by performing music before them. It is a kind of ‘Neurological Music Therapy'. Paediatric wards abroad are filled with toys and musical instruments.

“If you can use music carefully you can reach into the child's potential for development,” says Dr. Clive Robbins who runs a Music Therapy Clinic in USA. “It is a great tool of power in managing neurological disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's,” says Dr. Oliver Sacks. Music organises cerebral function. This raga-based approach broadly involves application of musical pieces with a specific emphasis on swara patterns, embellishments and appropriate rhythms.

Practice of music therapy is flourishing in western countries like the UK and in the USA. music therapists function under the umbrella of an organisation called ‘Association of Music Therapy (AMTA)'. Some doctors run music therapy sessions in UK, US, South Africa, Australia and Germany.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 11:11:30 AM |

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