Like most people, I have always loved music. I enjoy all kinds-classical, jazz, even country. When I drive to work I always have my CD player going. It's my way of getting ready for the day. Music has such a therapeutic effect on me that when I get to the office, I am ready for anything the day has in store for me.
I recently found a Dec. 29, 2005, article in the Wall Street Journal to be of great interest. It was titled "The Healing Power of Jazz," and was written by Nat Hentoff, a well-known jazz expert who periodically writes for the Journal.
Hentoff starts off his column telling the story of the late, great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong told a good friend back in 1969 that he wanted to start a foundation, "to give back to people some of the goodness I've had from them all these years." As a result, the Louis Armstrong Educational Fund was formed. Among its projects are the Louis Armstrong Public School Jazz Outreach Program in New Orleans and significant contributions to medical music therapy in hospitals and other care centers.
One of the most active programs is at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where Armstrong was a patient many times in his life. He was so impressed with the medical staff that he decided to provide funds that would be devoted to music therapy for children. For more than 10 years, the hospital's Louis and Lucille Armstrong Music Therapy Program has supported research and provided clinical music therapy for children and families at the hospital, for outpatients and for patients with HIV. The program is directed by Joanne Loewy, who is internationally known for this work. Recently the program was expanded to include the hospital's nationally recognized Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, its intensive-care units and the neonatal ICU.
In November 2005, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Beth Israel for the new Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine. The main focus will be on medical treatment for children and adults with asthma and chronic pulmonary disease.
Loewy is quoted by Hentoff as saying that "Asthma is the No. 1 admitting diagnosis for children in hospitals, so we are currently studying the effects of wind-playing-such as playing a flute or horn-in lung volume capacity and quality of life in children and teenagers."
At the ceremony, Phoebe Jacobs, vice president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Fund and a longtime jazz figure in New York, said, "You may think Louis Armstrong is dead-he's not. His spirit keeps on infecting us all."
She also said, "Music is more important now that we have all these troubles in the world, and here in this country. You don't have to be in a hospital to benefit from music therapy."
In the March 2005 issue of the journal Medical Herald, Loewy writes of her experience at Beth Israel: "Rhythm is the first area that helps us understand the logic of medical music therapy, because the heartbeat is the first thing that a doctor looks at to assess the physical parameters of the body. If we can look into the rhythm and look at the effect of rhythm in terms of healing, that kind of work is very important, especially in diseases such as Parkinson's where you're looking to improve gait control. Once I begin to use music, people see results. Parents see their children start to sing when they can't talk. The same thing with stroke. We know that music combines right brain and left brain. So, we just see the results of music therapy" there, too.
There may soon be therapy for those who make the music. Beth Israel is planning a Music Therapy Wellness Center for Musicians. Hentoff was told by Loewy that the center would care for "musicians who suffer, from other things, depression, anxiety and overuse syndrome. An interesting phenomenon among musicians is that women musicians are at significantly greater risk for playing-related injury, as are players of string instruments. Typically, people don't think musicians are injured and this is clearly an under-recognized health problem."
Wind and brass players, Loewy says, have problems affecting facial muscles, hands, wrists and arms. "The role of the Wellness Center would be to implement musical visualization techniques and provide intervallic synthesis breathing and physical exercises to implement breathing, thus preventing such injuries," she told Hentoff.
If you have heard Armstrong play the trumpet, you know that he had a distinct, happy sound. When he sang, his deep husky voice always seemed to be filled with joy and delight. I only saw him and his band in person once, but I came away from that concert with a deep sense of enjoyment. When Armstrong played everyone smiled.
What a great legacy he has left for all of us, including those of us in healthcare. This is no question there is magic in music. With the establishment of a music therapy center at Beth Israel-and with the program's continued expansion-it is reasonable to assume more bodies and spirits will be healed by the power of music.
Armstrong loved what he did and through the good works of his foundation, he is sharing his goodness of heart with the world.
We've all got rhythm,