Music Therapy

In the infirmary, there should be no disturbing clamour at any time, but nor in that same place should there be any music of any musical instrument played openly in general hearing. But, for reasons of greater need, of it be judged very useful for improving someone`s condition—as when it happens that any brother be so weak and ill that he greatly needs the sound and harmony of a musical to raise his spirits—that person may be led into the chapel by the Infirmarius, or carried there in some manner, so that, the door being closed, a stringed instrument may be sweetly played before him by any brother, or by any reliable and discreet servant, without blame. But great care should always be taken lest music or melody of this kind be heard at any time in the hall of the infirmary or—perish the thought—in the chambers of the brothers (text from Canterbury).

Over the past few decades music in medicine has been a heated discussion with regard to its neurobiological underpinnings, its evolutionary origin, and its relationship to other aspects of human behavior such as spoken language, and play. The uniting principle behind such speculations is the recognition that music is not simply cultural, but also “biological,” it is part of our species’ nature. Like language, music relies on sensory and motor capacities and has demonstrable emotional and motivational causes and effects. These arise from the structure of the brain, which develops in certain predictable ways during embryogenesis like any other organ, say the heart. Although individual languages, arts, and social customs differ, all humans are born predisposed to learn and practice music, language and belief systems of the group they find themselves in. These universal human predispositions to make music, to speak, to join with others in meaningful practices can be viewed as evolved behaviors. Like other complex behaviors, they must have been biologically useful or they would not be so pervasive, even universal, in individuals and societies. In a word, they were adaptive: they helped those who did these things to survive better. The mechanization of music in today`s societies clearly indicates a pervasive interest in music`s healing capacity, whether they be for New Age therapies, the vehicle for private therapy in the seclusion of our own headphones, or something more mainstream.