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Sound Healing

Eileen Hadidian's Healing Muses

BY PATRICIA KING

W

hen Eileen Hadidian was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 1994, her prognosis was excellent. But Hadidian, a professional flute and recorder player, wanted to boost her odds even more by using music to speed her recovery. Hadidian asked her doctor if she could listen to music during her surgery. Her "very cool" surgeon's response was: "Boom box or Walkman?" And so it was that the entire operating team at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland heard medieval chants delivered via boom box during her surgery. The soothing chants were the last thing Hadidian heard before the operation and the first thing she heard when she awoke -- and Hadidian was not the only one soothed. When the surgeon came down to the lobby of the hospital to talk to her husband and daughter, he said, "Wow, that music was incredible!" Then he added, "By the way, she's doing okay." Lobbying for chants in the operating room was Hadidian's first foray into music-as-healing activism. A decade later, 55-year-old Hadidian, the founder of Healing Muses (a nonprofit organization that brings flute, recorder, and harp music to medical settings) has become a formidable advocate and practitioner of music as a healing art. For a recent Healing Muses concert in the lobby of a Kaiser medical building in Oakland, Hadidian carefully unpacked her gear: alto and tenor recorders, a flute, and a pillow she deftly pillow on her chair. Her instruments would accompany a harp playing simple Celtic, Renaissance, and medieval melodies as well as American folk tunes and spirituals. Her pillow would fend off back pain, a legacy of the cancer, which in 1997 had spread to her bones, shortening her life expectancy to eighteen months more, according to medical prognosticators. Six years later, Hadidian says she has beaten those grim odds, in part, because she has found her life's work, which in turn has fueled her passion for living. Hadidian has seen Healing

Muses' melodies calm agitated patients in comas, shift noisy hospital floors to lower decibel levels, and quell her own anxieties about living with metastasized cancer. "It's like giving somebody a sedative," she said , "a sedative with no negative side effects. I am awed by the power of the music." The ancient belief that music is a powerful healing tool is resurgent. The Greeks worshiped Apollo as both the god of music and medicine. An increasing number of doctors, nurses, and administrators support such a linkage as well. Most proponents see music as a way of humanizing sterile, high-tech medical settings and relaxing patients, whose immune systems work better when their stress hormones plunge. But mind-body physicians also use sound to treat emotional and spiritual anguish, which they believe lie at the heart of every illness. Like the fifth-century B.C. Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who developed a system of "musical medicine," these practitioners say sound helps heal by harmonizing the body, mind, and soul. One contemporary advocate of this approach is Manhattan oncologist and complementary-medicine physician Dr. Mitchell S. Gaynor, author of the groundbreaking 1998 book Sounds of Healing. Dr. Gaynor added sound to his disease-fighting repertoire after one of his patients, a monk, introduced him to Tibetan metal singing bowls. Their sound, he writes, was "a rich, deep note with a strong vibrato that resembled nothing I had ever heard before." It was "so exhilarating that tears of joy sprang to my eyes. I could feel the vibration physically resonating through my body, touching my core in such a way that I felt in harmony with the universe." Gaynor continued to use the singing bowls and added Sanskrit and Sufi chanting, a practice he says made him more compassionate, better able to deal with stress, and better able to deal with the painful, defining moment of his childhood, his mother's dying of cancer when he was nine years old. Gaynor now urges his patients to use singing bowls, music, and their own voices (he suggests chanting and

Eileen Hadidian uses music in hospitals to heal spirits

even singing in the shower) to help them resolve repressed emotional trauma and experience their "inner harmony." Gaynor says sound combined with guided imagery and meditation is the fastest way for patients to resolve repressed emotional trauma and achieve a "sense of peace and spiritual ease." He believes they are as important to fighting cancer as monoclonal antibodies, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and proper nutrition. Sound, he writes, "should become a part of every healer's medical bag." Healing Muses' more modest goal of bringing music to medical settings has gotten support from a number of administrators and health professionals, including Hadidian's surgeon, Dr.

Richard Godfrey, who says that adding music to the "silent technology" of modern medicine can "awaken the positive forces of healing that come from within." Medical staff who are amateur musicians are particularly enthusiastic; recently a Kaiser nurse whipped out a tin whistle he carries in his backpack and played along with Healing Muses. Many administrators say the music has benefited the staff as much as the patients. "It's wonderful to witness patients and staff dancing in the middle of the hospital lobby," said Cindy Perlis, director of the Art for Recovery Program at the University of California at San Francisco's Mount Zion Center, where Healing Muses plays in the lobby, on the surgical oncology

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PHOTO: ANDREW SCHMIDT

floor, and in the "infusion" room where chemotherapy is administered. Support for such programs has also been fueled by a number of studies, which have found that music can help lower blood pressure and respiration rates, increase the production of painreducing endorphins, reduce the nausea and anxiety of chemotherapy, and speed up post-operative recovery. Joshua Leeds, a Sausalito-based music producer who holds "Sounds Seminars" for healthcare professionals, says the field is exploding because the studies are getting more sophisticated, thanks to imaging devices like MRIs and CAT scans. "We now have the opportunity to get precise information about where and how the brain processes rhythm and tone," said Leeds. Those studies have also spawned an explosion in the number of CDs featuring singing bowls, chanting, and "healing" music. There are now so many products, says San Anselmo­based Steven Halpern, founder of Inner Peace Music, that consumers need to become discriminating. Halpern--who for thirty years has been producing music based on 5,000-year-old traditional

Japanese, Chinese, and Indian music theory--recommends listening before buying: "If it doesn't feel good, it's definitely not for you." Halpern concedes, however, that in this frenetic society, figuring out which music calms you can be a challenge: "People don't even know what relaxation is. They think they're relaxed, but they're not even in the ballpark." Though individual musical tastes differ, Halpern believes that when it comes to calming music, there are

RESOURCES FOR SOUND HEALING

had come down with a mysterious, You can find a schedule of Healing enervating illness, by reinstating Muses' appearances and fundrais- hours of Gregorian chanting into ing concerts as well as order the their daily routine. groups CDs--Dolce Musica, a Reflective Journey and Reflections: www.gaynoroncolony.com A Sounds of Healing CD is availMusic to Soothe and Uplift the Spirit. able through Dr. Mitchell S. Gaynor's www.innerpeacemusic.com website as is a new paperback reYou can sample a wide selection of lease of his book called The Healing Steven Halpern's music, including a Power of Sound: Recovery from Lifenew release, Perfect Alignment, Threatening Illness Using Sound, which features "traditional healing Voice, and Music. rhythms" from Ghana and ancient www.healingsounds.com Persia. Former rock musician Jonathan www.sound-remedies.com Goldman teaches ancient toning Joshua Leeds' website includes techniques. He authored Healing links to research on sound healing, Sounds: The Power of Harmonics as well as a number of CDs and and created the award-winning CD books, including his The Power of Chakra Chants. Sound: How to Manage Your Personal Soundscape for a Vital, Pro- Further Reading: Music and Sound in the Healing ductive and Healthy Life. Arts by John Beaulieu and George www.tomatis.com Quasha, eds. (Station Hill Press) Learn about the Tomatis method, developed by Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an Music and the Power of Sound by innovative French physician whose Alain Danielou. (Inner Traditions research provides the foundation for Intl.) today's sound healing boom. Tomatis used voice and music to treat The Mysticism of Sound and autistic children and famously cured Music by Hazrat Inayat Khan. a group of Benedictine monks, who (Shambala Books)

www.healingmuses.org

PHOTO: ANDREW SCHMIDT

some universal principles at work. For example, most people find heavy metal to be "like drinking audio caffeine," even if they don't know it. "If someone feels that they're relaxed when listening to Metallica and heavy metal, they're usually wrong, but even if they're right, heavy metal will not work for over 90 percent of us," said Halpern. Hadidian is also careful when she chooses Healing Muses' repertoire. She avoids, for example, dissonant, twentieth-century and "bombastic" Romantic composers like Wagner. Hadidian, who grew up in Lebanon, the daughter of Armenian refugees from Turkey, says she focuses on "beautiful, simple melodies from different world cultures" and tells the patients she plays for: "If you fall asleep while we're playing, we consider it a compliment." That doesn't mean that Healing Muses only plays music to fall asleep by. When Hadidian played her lap harp for a dying friend, artist Susan Boulet, she started with faster-paced music to match Boulet's "agitated" mood. Then she gradually slowed the music down to allow Boulet's vital signs to begin to stabilize and "align themselves to the tempo of the music," a process called entrainment. The experience of playing for

Boulet, who visibly relaxed during each session even after she fell into a coma, became a catalyst for Hadidian's Healing Muses work, which she finds more satisfying than most stage concerts. "I never liked the primadonna, ego-driven form of performing. I did not perform for Susan. I was a vessel for the music coming through me." All the Healing Muses players say their stageless concerts appeal to a broad range of staff and patients, though Celtic harpist Natalie Cox notes there is invariably a "curmudgeon" who closes the door. Celtic harpist Maureen Brennan, a Kaiser laboratory scientist, at first worried that Healing Muses might not resonate with some of Kaiser's staff and patients, who come from dozens of cultures around the world. That stopped the day an elderly African American woman came up to her and said, "This is soul music. It washes my soul." It was the ultimate compliment for the Healing Muses musicians, who believe in the cross-cultural principle that when you touch the soul, you help heal the body.

Patricia King is a freelance writer and former Newsweek San Francisco Bureau Chief.

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