Healing through music

Saturday saw Laurier play host to the first ever Music Care Conference. Drawing in a diverse range of participants, the day featured a variety of workshops and performances in addition to keynote addresses from Dan Hill and Deforia Lane.

The event shed light on music therapy and provided different perspectives on the benefits that music can have on healthcare.

Taking a cross-disciplinary approach, the conference aimed to address the developing problem of our aging “Baby Boomer” population, suggesting that therapeutic music will improve the standard of care in years to come.
The event was organized by the Room 217 Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit charity that focuses on providing research, resources and training for the use of music in the medical field.

Attendees were greeted with a performance by global music specialist and former Laurier professor Gerard Yun. Following this, Canadian singer Dan Hill – brother of author Lawrence Hill – took to the podium and shared his personal story of music as a healing agent.

From the early age of 11, Hill would use his guitar as a coping mechanism for dealing with his mother’s psychiatric illness.

Later on in 2003, as Hill’s father suffered from the devastating effects of diabetes, his music created a bond between father and son – the basis for his book I Am My Father’s Son, which he signed copies of after his session.
Hill also claimed that as he tried to use music to heal his ailing parents, the songwriting process in turn healed him.

The afternoon session began with a breathtaking performance from the Penderecki String Quartet. Formed in Poland, the foursome has been WLU’s “Quartet-in-Residence” for 16 years now.

They delivered a rendition of a Beethoven String Quartet in A-minor, emitting an air of both playfulness and sophistication.

The performance garnered a standing ovation before Lane took her turn on stage.

The associate director at the Ireland Cancer Centre in Cleveland, Lane received her Ph.D. in music education. She is a cancer survivor herself and uses this experience as a means to empathize with patients.

Lane started off by remarking how impressed she was by Waterloo’s warm welcome, then shared her earliest experiences with music. She explained that her parents came from the deep south of the United States and had been subjected to racism.

As a result, music became a source of comfort and strength.

She told anecdotes about her mother at the piano and her father’s soulful voice, then got the crowd laughing at a story about the ladies at her church.

Lane claims that she first realized the healing power of music when the older, overweight, arthritic ladies of her church would struggle to walk down the aisle of the church and seat themselves. The moment the gospel choir started to sing, these ladies would jump out of their seats and join in, leaving a four-year-old Deforia wondering, “Where did the arthritis go?”

Her studies in music therapy involved a combination of science and art, receiving training in everything from physiology to playing an instrument from each musical family.

Lane also shared numerous case studies from her professional work. She described the positive effects of music therapy on patients from every age group – from pre-natal to palliative care patients.

The Cleveland hospital she works at has used musical techniques to condition babies from pre-natal stages to the point of delivery, describing the benefits of music-assisted labour. The most effective examples were with patient-preferred music, allowing mother’s to select certain songs to make the birthing process more comfortable.

Lane demonstrated the physiological and psychological efficiency of music therapy with video clips as well.

In one instance, an adult affected by autism was able to focus and concentrate responses to his care-worker as she played him a song on the guitar. Both his visual attention and motor movements reacted to the music, calming him down and creating a focal point of concentration.

Ending the address, Lane recited what she refers to as her “personal theme song,” taught to her by her mother. Showcasing her beautiful voice, Lane sang: “Over my head, I hear music in the air,” leaving the conference attendees in awe.

The Music Care Conference wrapped up successfully, leaving participants with a new perspective on musically-driven healthcare. The individual stories shared and medical research presented not only gave the crowd progressive ideas for the increasing “Baby Boom” burden on the healthcare system, but delivered a feel-good atmosphere.