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Music hath charms: Songs have the power to uplift and heal

By Laura Bulkin
Posted 4/3/20

A great song provides us with a "flux capacitor" for time travel. With a few notes, we are transported out of this chaos to a better place and time -- a time in the past when we were happy and secure, or even a time in the unknown, idealized future. It can relax us, unite us, inspire us and bring us, literally, into harmony. How can it work so magically?

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Tempo

Music hath charms: Songs have the power to uplift and heal

Posted

A great song provides us with a "flux capacitor" for time travel. With a few notes, we are transported out of this chaos to a better place and time -- a time in the past when we were happy and secure, or even a time in the unknown, idealized future. It can relax us, unite us, inspire us and bring us, literally, into harmony. How can it work so magically?

Leandra Muñoz is a student at University of New Mexico-Taos' Holistic Healing Program, graduating this spring. She is also an accomplished singer, actor, writer and visual artist. We asked her about the healing power of music.

"Healing arts and music combined remind me of cymatics -- the study of visible vibration and sound. Depending on the ripple pattern or sound pattern, different images will appear in sand or water. The higher the frequency, the more complex the patterns are. These patterns are repeatable, not random.

"The more you observe, the more you start to see how vibration arranges matter into complex forms from simple waves. Because water is impressionable due to its high resonance capacity, water responds instantaneously to all sonic waves. Vibrating water and earth make up the majority of mass in plants and animals.

"The animating principle for the universe is described in every major religion, using words that reflected the understanding of that time in history. In the language of the Incas, the words for human body is 'alpa camasca,' which literally means animated earth. When we hear the outside world or listen to any type of music, we are subtly picking up these vibrations in our body. Sound affects us all. Everything that we perceive as hard objects, including our bodies, are actually continuously vibrating at their own proportion. Although we cannot regularly see sound, we feel it; we just need to tune into a frequency that feels best for us."

Taos singer, instrumentalist and composer Audra Rodgers gave this personal account: "There have been so many instances in my life where I've said to others, 'Music makes everything better.' Have a cold? Play some guitar, you'll feel better. Down in the dumps? Sing a song and I promise, your spirits will lift. And as it turns out, it's not just anecdotal truth. There's some science to back it up.

"I have experienced the healing power of music many, many times myself. One of the most easily accessible examples in my life being an instance of being on tour and ending up with a terrible cold. I was absolutely miserable and this wasn't the kind of tour where we were staying in hotel rooms. It was rarely a comfortable existence, and having a cold pushed me over the edge into misery. That being said, I started to notice that I always felt better onstage and for a while afterward. My spirits were certainly lifted but I also physically felt better. My symptoms were diminished and I had a little energy for a while.

"I thought I was just psyching myself out enough to get onstage and then riding the subsequent endorphin high, but as it turns out there is growing body of evidence that suggests that music actually does aid in calming certain discomforts. There are even studies out there that suggest that music helps bolster the immune system and that just listening to music can help you conquer a cough. Everything from anxiety relief to reduced perception of pain - music is now being explored as a clinical treatment method for many ailments both physical and mental."

Rodgers continued, "Being on tour with a cold is a fairly innocent and small-scoped example, but really, I say this with all honesty, music has saved my life more times than I can count. To use a euphemism, I had a 'troubled' childhood and the sense of purpose and community that music gave me kept me alive in times that I felt like I didn't want to go on. There were times when the only human contact that I had for days or weeks on end was music-oriented, because I was so distraught, stunted and traumatized that I couldn't interact in any other way.

"I'm now learning that the act of participating in rhythmic activities in a group, including playing music, can help process trauma that your brain wouldn't otherwise be able to access. It's a documented phenomenon that when a group of musicians plays together, their heartbeats synchronize. For the person who is constantly in survival mode (fight or flight), this is amazing because it implies that music can calm your nervous system down enough for you to be able to look out at the world from a place of calm stability rather than chaotic fear.

"Music helped start the healing process for me because it gave me a glimpse of normality that I had no access to otherwise. For those moments that I was playing music with others as a young person, I felt like I was part of something and that I had value, and that was a totally alien and new experience. It gave me something to work with and work from - a foundation to build on.

"People who get to know me are often surprised to learn about my past and almost every single person asks me, 'How did you turn out so well?' The answer is music. Music shaped me. Music saved my life."

Taos drummer extraordinaire Norman John Cutliff III, of Katy P and The Business, sums up with some quarantine advice: "Honestly, in this interesting time, people have extra time to learn an instrument and become a part of that power."

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