By Paul Angers
During World War II, experiments were conducted with the idea that sound could be used as a weapon. The purpose was to destroy the homeostasis in which human cells exist. The question now is: does enough scientific evidence exist to know if the opposite is true? Can a combination of frequencies conflated with rhythm cause living cells to reach a state of equilibrium that would lead to better health? Music, art of combining sounds with a view to beauty of form and expression of emotion: Oxford Concise Dictionary.
The testimonies from thousands of patients who have suffered from a variety of ailments agree that music has played a large part in their healing process. In his book, Biomedical Foundations of Music as Therapy, Dr. Dale Taylor discusses the many areas in which music can help patients conquer diseases. Dr. Taylor visits many of the older theoretical perspectives regarding music as a healing agent including: behavioral modification, sociological benefits, psychoanalytic applications, and music to assist cognitive development in adults and children. Dr. Taylor also discusses some of the newer challenges: physiological and biomedical perspectives on music and health.
Does all of this sound complicated? What really happens to a listener when he or she is listening to their favorite samba and is filled with that bitter-sweet feeling of saudade? What physically happens to a musician when he or she is in the height of expression while creating music with several other people? Do musicians become physicians when they perform or do listeners become the physician by yielding to the healing music is believed to produce?
In an attempt to answer these questions, experts hang in the balance of pure physiological science and philosophy. Familiarity with the wisdom of the ancients, shamans, baianas, etc. can give rise to great philosophical discussions about ideas that are seemingly intangible (i.e. feelings, emotions, and other thought processes). Many would not philosophically argue that performing and/or listening to music can induce a cascade of feelings and emotions. But on the scientific level, what is it that causes the wonderful sensations we get from music? Do they physically heal?
According to Candace Pert, Visiting Professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, it is neurotransmitters and peptides, chemicals the brain produces, that flood us with the wonderful sensations music provides. In a 1993 interview with Bill Moyers, Dr. Pert explained that our brain is like a pharmacy producing an array of chemicals designed to aid cell equilibrium, (healing illness), or, depending on the individual’s state, cause cell disequilibrium, (causing illness).
Some of the neurotransmitters are: acetylcholine, dopamine, histamine, epinephrine, adrenalin, melatonin, and serotonin. Candace further explains that when several of these neurotransmitters are linked together they become neuropeptides such as oxytocin and/or endorphin.
Did Tom Jobim know he was setting all of this in motion when he created bossa-nova? Do the samba schools know they are flooding each and every participant and listener with loads of chemicals during a performance? Our good health is in constant check by our immune system. An immune system that is out of balance can create problems for our body. If the immune system is too weak, disease can enter our bodies; if the immune system is too strong, it will not only destroy disease but also destroy cells and tissue beneficial to our health.
Eric Jensen, of the Brain Store, has assembled research data which supports the idea that music can enhance the immune system. In his book Music with the Brain in Mind Dr. Jensen states “…studies have demonstrated that music, along with other related agents, can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortison and can increase interleukin-1, an immune booster.” He further states, “A study demonstrated that children exposed to music, singing and instrument playing exhibited increased antibodies.” With data like this it may be safe to say that music enhances wellness.
The great sambista Noel Rosa was a student in medical school. He memorized his lessons by putting them to music. He wrote approximately 250 sambas. Noel did not finish medical school but through his music, he has perhaps become a great physician.
Promoting wellness through music is not a new idea to many cultures, however, understanding the science behind the feelings and emotions music invokes is cutting edge technology. Christine Stevens is a forerunner for promoting recreational music with wellness in mind. Christine understands and applies science, ancient wisdom and metaphoric value in creating recreational music.
Christine’s emphasis is on percussion, and she has made drumming and creating music accessible to large and varied groups of participants all over the world. Her tenets include musical: accessibility, aesthetics, expressiveness, physical experience, power in creating and playing, fun, camaraderie, meditative aspects, spiritual aspects and transformation (teaching that one can move beyond perceived limitations). According to the research by Jensen and Taylor, Christine’s tenets are the very mechanisms needed to stimulate a personal experience conducive to producing the neurotransmitters needed for good health.
For millions of people around the world the feelings created by samba are joy, happiness, melancholy, nostalgia, excitement and even sadness. The instrumentation used covers a variety of frequencies and rhythms which penetrate every fiber of the listener and/or the performer. Voices and melodies can set the stage for biological processes. The lyrical content of many sambas can open doors for romance, social justice, spiritual growth and fun. According to the scientific evidence, all of these elements together can lead to a flood of neurotransmitters and peptides produced by our brain to be sent to the far reaches of our body for better health and well-being. Its God’s medicine… its prayerful… “Que é meu samba, Em feitio de oração” (Noel Rosa).
* Paul Angers is a musician and educator. His music career has brought him to 26 countries, and his credits include numerous films and albums. Paul holds a Master of Arts Degree in Human Development. He lives in L.A, is a adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks College, in Pasadena, CA, and a Drum Circle facilitator.