Therapeutic Effect of Classical Music After a Pandemic
Health & Gender Policy Brief #150 | By: Yelena Korshunov | May 17, 2022
Header photo taken from: PRS for Music
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Two years of the pandemic drastically affected our life. Although the COVID-19 curve recently increased, we are eager to make steps toward revival. Theaters opened doors for the public in the 2021/22 season, museums welcomed visitors, and indoor performances became more frequent. We want to have our pre-pandemic routine back. Some of us feel comfortable taking a seat at the stuffed theater, others still prefer to avoid crowded places, but we all acutely need to move away from the long-term stress and get back to our comfort zone.
It was a cold but nice sunny day. People were walking along Broadway in Manhattan when at the corner of 62nd Street they were stopped by sounds of beautiful music flowing over the busy streets. Piano and violin harmony from the Musical Storefront made people stop and enjoy it in front of the large window where the musicians played. They performed inside the venue with speakers outside, and everyone could see and listen to the concert. People applauded loudly, and no one left before the performance was over.
It was a free classical music concert of Julia Jones and Alex Ruvinstein, organized by Kaufman Music Center, and whoever wanted could listen to it outside of a crowded indoor place. People smiled enjoying the music, feeling that this is the life they used to have, and this life is coming back now. I asked Alex Ruvinstein, a New York piano performer, about his feeling of the renaissance of music performance today and how it affects the audience.
-Alex, what did you do during the long COVID quarantine when music venues were closed and concerts were canceled? How did you feel about it?
-Although I played a couple of online concerts during this time and had a number of recordings, it’s not the same as when you play for a live audience. You react to the energy coming from the listeners and perform differently.
-How has the audience reacted to resumed live concerts?
-Very enthusiastically. You could see how people missed live music and how happy they were to return to this harmony between them and a musician. Every single performance became a celebration. People come to you after the concert to talk, like old friends after being away for a long time.
– What is the therapeutic impact of live classical music on the audience?
– When people are so stressed out, music makes them feel safer and relaxed. They recall the sentimental moments of their lives and look forward with optimism and hope.
– You are used to playing in concert halls. What inspired you and your colleague Julia when you performed for passersby at the Musical Storefront today?
– It is a completely different feeling compared to performing at the music hall. Today’s experience was something dynamic, momentary, when people would come after the program had already started and could leave before it ended. It was especially rewarding when people stayed to listen to the entire concert. We had three performances in a row, and some people stayed to listen to the same program over and over.
According to the North Shore University of Health System, “music can improve mood, decrease pain and anxiety, and facilitate opportunities for emotional expression. “ Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. It can also reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood.” This research also found out that besides relieving symptoms of depression, music stimulates memories, and even eases pain.
It helps people eat less. “Playing soft music in the background (and dimming the lights) during a meal can help people slow down while eating and ultimately consume less food in one sitting.” Research also found that listening to workout tracks increases endurance during an exercise session. We need to choose music that brings us into harmony with ourselves. It may be different for relaxation and for exercising, but it will make us feel happier.
It is widely known that music brings us a more positive state of mind, helping to reduce anxiety and depression, and to elevate mood. It can help prevent or decrease stress, and keep creativity and makeoptimism levels higher. In the research “Mozart, Music and Medicine”, Ernest K.J. Pauwels and his colleagues found out that “music may modulate the immune response, among other things, evidenced by increasing the activity of natural killer cells, lymphocytes and interferon-γ, which is an interesting feature as many diseases are related to a misbalanced immune system.”
It is clear that the positive effect of classical music should be counted when funds are spent on people’s health needs. We will benefit from using today’s renaissance of music performances for therapeutic treatment of our pandemic stress and its side effects. Free outdoor concerts, and performances such as at the Musical Storefront, when indoor concerts are accessible for public audiences, should be added to the local and federal health improvement planning, especially during the long-lasting pandemic.
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You may wonder whether classical music is especially beneficial for our health, more so than other genres? Research shows that classical music does our body good, and specifically, our heart. In a study published in the journal Deutsches Aerzteblatt International in 2016, researchers compared the effect of the music of Mozart and Strauss with that of ABBA on issues related to heart health. They found that “those who listened to Mozart and Strauss had markedly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as lower heart rates. ABBA’s tunes, on the other hand, didn’t produce the same effects.” Michael Schneck, MD, a neurologist with Loyola Medicine in Chicago explains that “it is the emphasis of listening to the harmonies and rhythms of classical music that may provide a calming effect for people, thus helping to lower their blood pressure. This could occur with classical music or jazz music.”
Classical music knowingly reveals our hidden emotions, helps us sleep, improves memory, and even makes us smarter. Catherine Jackson, a clinical psychologist and neurotherapist, has noticed a similar effect during neurotherapy sessions when she plays light or classical music while patients engage in deep breathing. “Music impacts how we feel, which in turn impacts how we perform on cognitive tasks” she says. “A happy brain is a healthy brain and music, especially music that evokes positive memories, can help to increase dopamine and neuroconnectivity, keeping the aging brain healthier.”
It is clear that the positive effect of classical music should be counted when funds are spent on people’s health needs. Open concerts, such as at the Musical Storefront, may expose new listeners to classical music, whose physical and mental health may become in some degree better when they have a chance to acquire a habit to enjoy this harmony.
We benefit from using today’s renaissance of music performances for therapeutic treatment of our pandemic stress and its side effects. Free outdoor concerts, and performances such as at the Musical Storefront, when indoor concerts are accessible for public audiences, should be added to the local and federal health improvement planning, especially during the long-lasting pandemic.
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