The therapeutic sound of music

 The power of music to affect one’s mood and behavior is often underestimated or misunderstood, and the physics behind how something that cannot be seen or touched can emotionally affect us in many different ways remains a mystery.

The old adage generally used by poets, romantics and artists throughout time, whimsically states that music charms the savage breast. More and more research is finding that there is possibly some truth to this statement, as scientists conducting experiments on plants have noted that they react to different kinds of music.

In The Sound of Music and Plants, published in 1973, author Dorothy Retallack documented  the results of her research, which showed that plants exposed to classical /soothing music grew towards the music, while plants that were exposed to noisy/distorted music died.

Special needs therapists have discovered that the power of music also works on people and can have a therapeutic and healing effect. When listening to music the brain receives stimulation, and the outcomes this increased brain activity has on patients with special needs is a relatively new but rapidly growing area of expertise. To this end, a group of nine student volunteers from Boston came to Grand Cayman for two weeks recently, splitting their time between the Lighthouse School, the Sunrise Adult Learning Centre and the Early Intervention Programme.

At each of the different locations, three students had the opportunity to interact with the group of musicians, as well as play their instruments.

“The people we worked with all responded so well and we were able to note changes in some individuals, who came out of their shells, some for the first time,” said Project Leader Jullian Parolisi. Parolisi had been asked by the New England Region of the American Music Therapy Association to run an international music therapy service project, and she immediately chose the Cayman Islands.

“I used to live here and it was not only a place that was familiar to me but I also felt that Grand Cayman and its people could really benefit from this.”

Ms Parolisi elaborated: “Before I left and even now, a lot of the literature that I come into contact with in Cayman talks about the steps the Islands are taking to become more developed in terms of care for those with special needs or different abilities. This speaks to the realization that many nations are having about different approaches to care for this segment of society and how they may be more effective than thought before.”

The group of students who travelled with Ms. Parolisi from Boston advocate music therapy as a clinical and evidence-based approach used to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. The programme is really “a way of seeing someone’s abilities beyond their disabilities.”

They explained that music therapy is a well-established allied health profession similar to -and often used in conjunction with- occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and psycho-therapy, adding that because music therapy is also a non-threatening medium, unique outcomes are possible. Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.

Another benefit of this kind of approach is the inclusive nature of the therapy as people of any age or disability are able to participate in settings that include hospitals, schools, counseling centers, correctional facilities, day treatment centers and residential homes.

The initiative not only allowed Cayman to be exposed to music therapy in a formal setting for the first time in this particular way, but also opened up a new world to those whose lives were touched as a result of having more closely experienced the wonder and pleasure of music.

As part of their parting gift to the individuals they met and worked with while in the Cayman Islands, the students who conducted the music therapy sessions left behind the instruments they brought with them so the people they assisted could continue to develop.

Presentations were also made by the group throughout the Cayman Islands during their time here in efforts to promote the use of music therapy as a tool for community service and social action, and to encourage and inspire the current volunteers to become the next generation of outreach leaders.

As a result of the unique efforts of this group, care facilitators in Grand Cayman said a whole new world has been opened up and they are excited about the many possibilities of music therapy.

All nine student volunteers expressed joy at the opportunity to come and see the Island’s beauty and to get to know and work with Cayman’s people.

“At times it has been overwhelming because I have been so moved and so inspired by what I see as small miracles,” said April Buscher. “But this has been a life- changing experience and I will never forget Grand Cayman, the children and staff of The Lighthouse School.”