Music, Healing, and Our Communities- January 2017

Music, Healing and Our Communities:

An Empowering Partnership

Michelle S. Lynch, PsyD, LP

Detroit Medical Orchestra

Since its beginning in 2010, the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s mission of “Bringing Healing Through Music” has been realized by presenting high-level symphonic performances in the heart of downtown Detroit performed by Detroit-area medical students, nurses, resident and attending physicians, allied-health professionals, professors/academics, and well as any other musicians who are passionate about the healing power of music.

The orchestra members are all volunteers, giving generously of their time and musical talent. While the musicians come from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, they join together to exchange their instruments of their demanding professional and academic lives for those of musical instruments; to create the healing and soothing sounds of music to promote relaxation and rejuvenation not only for the listeners of their music, but also for the musicians themselves. Performances featuring the full 70+ member orchestra that are part of the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s official concert season are always free and open to all in the community; giving the gift of music to thousands of appreciative concert-goers over the past several years.

The healing power of music is both historic and scientific. In ancient times, the Greeks worshiped Apollo, a god for both music and medicine. Hippocrates, commonly called the “Father of Western Medicine,” is said to have played music for his patients (Haley, 2015). Research has long supported that listening to classical music can increase relaxation, provide respite and relief from negative emotions and experiences, and relieve symptoms of both physical and mental health conditions. Classical music in particular has been found to have a variety of positive health effects such as reducing pain and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, relieving insomnia, reducing healing times, increasing memory retrieval and improving communication (Adams 2102; Haley, 2015; Ifill, 2012; Mount 2004).

Neuroscientists are working to further understand how music impacts brain functioning and have reported a number of advantages for musically-trained individuals. Advantages that range from better verbal and mathematical skills to higher scores on tests of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and IQ (Dewar, 2014; Fujioka et al 2006; Schellenberg 2006; Patel and Iverson 2007; Hanna-Pladdy and Mackay 2011). The positive and profound effects that music can have on the brain are not just limited to those creating the music, but extend to all who listen and enjoy it.

Exploring the connections between music and science has revealed fascinating insights on how brain functioning can be powerfully affected by music. Research in this area has led to investigations of the “Mozart effect” and experiments that have supported individuals having brief improvement in visual-spatial skills immediately after listening to a Mozart sonata (Dewar, 2014; Rauscher et al, 1993; Hetland, 2000). Neuroscientist – Daniel Levitin, author of This is your Brain on Music, emphasizes the connections between music and the brain and the powerful effects music has on the areas of the brain that store memory, influence emotion and produce a sense of satisfaction or pleasure (Levitin, 2007). Dr. Oliver Sacks, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, explored the power of music on the brain and how memory, mood, and emotion are powerfully impacted by music. His work with individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other severe neurological and physical problems illustrates the profound emotional impact and healing effect that the return of memories triggered by music can have on people’s lives (Sacks, 2008). In his book, Awakenings, Dr. Sacks states, “The power of music to integrate and cure is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication” (Sacks, 1999).

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) cites Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), a form of speech-language and music-based therapy, as a helpful intervention in the recovery of expressive language skills with brain-injury patients (Haley, 2015). This technique which utilizes melody and rhythm to help improve expressive language by tapping into non-damaged and preserved functional brain areas, such as those engaged in the areas of singing, helps stimulate and engage language-capable regions (Zumbansen et al, 2014). This type of treatment aided Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in her recovery, and by using Melodic Intonation Therapy she was able to sing what she was not able to say, and this has facilitated her speech recovery (Haley, 2015). A number of regions in the brain are activated by listening to music. Researchers believe that as we listen to music, the brain responds by creating new pathways and connections, and this can often have a significant positive impact around damaged or disconnected areas (Ifill, 2012). Music therapy is now being used as an intervention with a number of different difficulties, such as people suffering from early-onset dementia, kids with autism, as well as veterans who are coming back from war and trying to learn to walk without a limb. A growing number of studies also suggest that music-based therapies can promote healing in several ways such as helping stroke patients regain speech, improve heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure, as well as reduce anxiety and pain in cancer and leukemia patients. (Ifill, 2012).

As the brain processes music, it stimulates communication between left and right hemispheres. It is not surprising that many deep thinkers and scientists have enjoyed and benefited from the positive effects of this stimulation. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music…I get most joy in life out of music.” Einstein started playing the violin when he was five and music was not only an outlet for his emotions, but the core of his creative life. He was nourished by music and found particular inspiration in playing music written by Mozart (Miller, 2006).

It is clear that music has the powerful potential to heal from within, our bodies and minds; however, this healing can extend outward by fostering positive connections with those around us and building a spirit of collaboration between members of our communities. Jean Vanier writes in his book, Community and Growth, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing” (Vanier, 1989). At every concert, the Detroit Medical Orchestra promotes a Detroit-based health or community initiative/organization, increasing awareness to these groups and their missions through pre-concert talks to the audience and also collecting donations at the concert which go directly to these charities. In past concerts, we have supported free health clinics and community children’s programs, among others.

The Detroit Medical Orchestra wishes to extend the healing power of music to the greater Detroit community by creating an experience through our free performances that not only brings people together; to revitalize rejuvenate, and inspire; but also to support and build partnerships with community art, cultural, social and health initiatives. Please visit the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s website, for more information about the orchestra as well as a full listing of upcoming concert dates.

Michelle S. Lynch, Psy.D. is a graduate of Hope College, where she received a Bachelor’s degree with a double major of Psychology and Japanese Language.   Dr. Lynch completed her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and completed her Internship through the Wayne State University Child/Adolescent Clinical Psychology Training Program. She is an alumnus of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, during which time she received the Distinguished Pediatric Psychology Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Award in 2006.  She has held positions in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department through the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Child Research Division at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, prior to starting full-time private practice in 2006.  Dr. Lynch specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents and families experiencing emotional and behavior difficulties related to trauma, loss, violence, disaster or other psychologically overwhelming experiences.    

Dr. Lynch is thankful to have grown up in a family that strongly supported and encouraged music education.  It was at a community symphony concert as a young elementary school student where she experienced the excitement of first hearing a live classical music performance and felt the inspiration of wanting to start playing an instrument.  Shortly thereafter, she starting playing the flute and continued to do so through college.  After a hiatus from playing due to graduate school studies and post-graduate career activities, she had the good fortune of learning about the Detroit Medical Orchestra while attending a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert.  Since joining the Detroit Medical Orchestra, she has rediscovered the joy, artistic energy and creative challenge that comes with playing and studying music. She is grateful to study under the flute instructorship of Carol Perkins. 

Dr. Lynch is passionate about being a musician with the Detroit Medical Orchestra as well as the orchestra’s current President of the Board of Directors, providing her the opportunity to contribute to the orchestra’s mission of bringing the healing power of music to the greater Detroit community through the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s free classical music performances. In addition to volunteering as the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s President of the Board of Directors, Dr. Lynch is also an active member of the Detroit Public Television’s Community Advisory Panel and serves on the Arts and Culture Subcommittee of the Detroit Public Television’s Community Advisory Panel. 


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Zumbansen, A., Peretz, I., Hebert, S. (2014). Melodic Intonation Therapy: Back to Basics for Future Research.  Frontiers in Neurology, 5: 7