"The arts are healing; we have always known that, but now we are focusing more and more on ways to utilize them therapeutically," says Rosalie Rebollo Pratt, author, editor and professor of music at Brigham Young University.
"Arts are central to well-being and healing, but we must learn to release ourselves and give up our fears. It is not enough to have chemotherapy or an operation. You must change you."Pratt has held and now holds many positions in organizations, both national and international, dedicated to finding and increasing ways that music and medicine can work together. She recently returned from reading a paper at the International Society for Music Education in Tallinn, Estonia - a gathering of educators, therapists, musicians, psychologists and doctors interested in music as it affects healing and well-being.
Why Tallinn? Because that's the outstanding city in the Soviet Union for research about music as medicine, and the whole Soviet Union is waking up to the therapeutic possibilities of music, said Pratt. "There were a hundred representatives from the Soviet Union, including doctors."
Among the subjects discussed at Tallinn was music in the hospital, where it helps patients endure surgical procedures with the least possible pain, and seems to speed recovery. Some hospitals have players right at the bedside for patients to use.
"And many schools have put in facilities to study the relationship between music and healing," she said. "Harvard has the Rusk Institute, named after Howard Rusk, the father of rehabilitation medicine, and more and more you hear of such centers going into hospitals. Stanford has a music therapy laboratory in its medical school."
At BYU, Pratt has devised the curriculum for a new master's in arts, which will require study of music as it affects the human life process.
In response to the graying of the planet, music and music therapy were discussed at Tallinn as they may enhance the lifestyles of the aged and deal with their problems. "Music is being widely used in rest homes to help the lonely, the depressed, the dissociated," she said. "Music helps them to realize who they are, and appreciate what they have."
Pratt came home with the assignment to edit a new Journal of Arts Medicine, which will come out in the spring. Next year she will present a paper at MEDART International's first world congress on arts medicine at the Hague, The Netherlands.
An area that interests Pratt intensely is stress injuries among musicians. "Do you know that there are currently 376 journals worldwide reporting on music and medicine?" she said. "And their most common topic? Overuse injuries.
"We must help musicians not to destroy themselves by bad practice methods," she said. "We are realizing that no one should play the violin for two hours without a break, but conductors don't know (or admit) that inordinate hours of practice can be harmful.
"It is a tremendous problem. There are clinics in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Cleveland, Washington and New York for overuse disorders that involve pain in the muscles, joints and tissues, whose staffs have specialists in rheumatology, neurology, immunology, orthopedics and psychiatry."
Utah Valley has its own Rehabilitation Medical Center, where Dr. Stuart King, a physiatrist, works with fingers, shoulders and backs, the most common ailments among violinists; and with cellists, who most often injure their thumbs.
Pianists have most complaints about back pain, induced by holding their hands and arms in a cramped position all day, or by stretching their fingers unnaturally. Singers develop nodes on their vocal cords.
Clarinetists have trouble with their hands, held out from the body in an unnatural position to support their instrument. Lately some have taken to using a little post under the instrument to prop it against the chest and rest their hands.
"It's silly to say that just because we have always held the clarinet in this cramped way, that's the only way to play it," she said. "Mechanical holders on the violin and viola also relieve strain on the shoulders and neck."
Lip tension, to the point of eventual numbness and immobility, afflicts those who play blown instruments. Indeed, such tension problems among instrumentalists are very common, even though performers won't admit them publicly for fear of career termination. One New York orthopedist says he can't keep up with all the people who come to him with such complaints, said Pratt.
"If musicians are to protect their bodies, they must start at the studio level," she said. "It will take a long time to change attitudes, because teachers are accustomed to ignoring human limitations. They say go on, go on, this problem will pass. But often it does not.
"The hundreds of medical doctors at the meeting in Tallinn are typical of many who are accepting more and more readily that it's not pills or medicine that heals; it's people themselves. We can change ourselves. We all have stress, but we must not let it destroy us. We need techniques for letting go of stress and fears. Doctors, therapists and studio teachers need to know how to care for the body, and how the mind influences healing."