Book Review: Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound
(Tripp Hudgins and I recently interviewed Christine Stevens about her book Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound on the Voices of Peace radio show. You can listen to the fascinating interview here.)
“Adam, don’t sing out loud,” she whispered. We were singing a hymn during our Sunday morning church service. My dad belted out those hymns, so I belted them, too. I was a cocky 13 year old; I thought I was good at absolutely everything. Little did I know that when I sang the people around me want to eat gravel and die.
Okay. That’s a little dramatic, but my terrible singing abilities were confirmed when I was 17. My high school put on the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. During auditions we all had to sing one of the songs. I remember trembling on the stage as I looked into the auditorium filled by the director, the school music teacher, and my fellow classmates. The piano started playing. My mouth opened. The words to the song came out, “Close every door to me. Hide all the world from me…” The looks of horror in the room that day are etched forever in my mind. Fortunately, the director, Mr. McJunkin, quickly ended our shared misery by saying, “Thanks, Adam. That’s enough.”
They didn’t give me the lead role. Instead, I was some dude named Gad who quietly moved his lips, insuring that his voice was muffled by his 10 brothers.
I’ve never thought of myself as musical, but Christine Stevens says I am. And that you are, too. I’ll be talking with her about that ridiculously audacious claim this Thursday on the Voices of Peace Internet radio show. Christine says this on the first page of her book,
How have we forgotten we are all musical? How have we become music listeners more than music makers, consumers more than creators? It’s often one critical statement from some authority figure that silences us. We get told we “can’t carry a tune in a bucket” or that we should “just move our lips” in the choir concert.
“That’s me!” I thought. And that’s part of the beauty of Music Medicine. I could identify with nearly every page. Through the power of story and science, Christine shows that “You are musical” (even me!) and that music’s medicine is found in “creating joy, gathering community, generating hope, freeing the spirit, communing with the Spirit and educating the children” (3).
Christine teaches us that music isn’t something we do, music is something we are. From before we are even born, we are surrounded by the rhythmic melody of our mother’s womb. The natural rhythm continues throughout our lives in the drumbeat of our heart and the breathing of our lungs. Every voice has a certain rhythm, melody, and tone.
Music Medicine offers some fascinating scientific research on the healing power of music, but what I find even more powerful are the stories that Christine tells. She tells a story about Arthur, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “Arthur was referred to music therapy,” writes Christine, “because he was isolated, spending most of his day puttering around his room, feeling confused.” Like many children whose parents suffer from Alzheimer’s, Arthur’s daughter, Bonnie, frequently visited her Dad, despite the pain and sadness she felt when her father didn’t recognize her. Christine performed the therapy on Arthur through playing the drums. Arthur and Bonnie played the drums together. Music and laughter filled the air. Arthur then sang a song that always had a special place for him and his daughter, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Bonnie wept as she knew that “somewhere in his heart, her father knew who she was” (69).
Music also has the medicine to heal relationships between enemies. Christine has traveled to Iraq numerous times to perform music therapy for those regions that have suffered the tragic affects of war. Christine’s translator was a 30-year old Kurdish man named Shalo. One participant of a drum circle Christine offered was a potential enemy of Shalo, a 30-year old Arab man from Tikrit, Sadam Hussein’s hometown. Shalo’s father fought against Hussein’s regime, and the participant’s dad was in Hussein’s army. Their fathers may have fought in battle. Christine feared there might be major conflicts between the two, but during a break she heard music playing from a room. Shalo was playing the violin and the Arab man was playing the drums. “I never thought I could have a friend from Tikrit,” Shalo exclaimed. “We learned to make music together; we learned how to work in peace together.” After she reflected on that experience, Christine discovered, “When you make music together, you can no longer be enemies” (100).
I was skeptical when I began the book, but Christine has convinced me of the healing power of music. I’m not gonna lie, I’ll still just move my lips during church, but singing is not the only way we can make music. I could learn the guitar, the piano, or just play a drum. Christine has made healing through music easier for all of us with her Healing Drum Kit and the internet song lists at the end of each chapter of her book.
So listen in on our conversation this Thursday. Feel free to call and ask Christine a question. Let’s sing together (on second thought, you sing and I’ll drum) and we will discover the healing power of music.