Music and Wellness

Music and WellnessIt’s not often that any two of my multiple worlds collide, but I found out this week about a website that smashed the atoms of a couple of them together in a great way. The Pittsburgh Symphony has a website,, which does just that.

As a lifelong musician, I know the benefits of a musical education, as well as the many health benefits of music itself. Driving down the road listening to your favorite tunes full blast? Some soothing music while taking a long, hot bath to relax? Or what about the opposite effect – hearing something awful that you can’t get away from, or maybe you’ve got “You Light Up My Life” stuck in your brain and nothing can get rid of it? (Sorry for that one…)

This program was started in 1999. I guess I was too busy with my own life to notice it. Oddly enough, it had its root in cancer.

The Music and Wellness Program originated in 1999 when PSO violist Penny Brill was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the year following her diagnosis, she began researching ways of using music to reduce her anxiety, lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, and decrease the amount of pain medication needed both during surgery and the recovery following surgery. Penny found that her experiences mirrored those of the clinical researchers investigating the impact of music on sickness, recovery, and overall wellness. She also observed that there were few music therapists in area hospitals and recognized an opportunity for the PSO to positively impact the Pittsburgh community. Since that time, Penny has worked tirelessly to make Music and Wellness an essential part of the work of the PSO.

Since then, it has grown and developed into collaborations with several music therapy programs in the Pittsburgh area.

Through the Music and Wellness Program, the PSO works with music therapists and other healthcare professionals to bring therapeutic, live music to individuals at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the VA Pittsburgh’s H. J. Heinz Campus, and other facilities in the Pittsburgh area and abroad. PSO musicians lead music and wellness sessions for small yet diverse groups of participants that include patients, their families, and healthcare staff. By interacting with participants and performing relevant and meaningful music, PSO musicians help participants meet their physical, emotional, and social needs.

Certainly there are people who don’t believe in this power of music. I know of quite a few people who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to classical music. For those skeptics, I would like to show this video of the effects of music on a vineyard:

So if music can do this to plants, how much more can it affect people? Like Penny, I listened to my favorite music during my cancer treatment to lessen my pain and anxiety. Actually, way back in the 1980’s when I worked in a hospital surgical unit, I suggested to the anesthetists that they have patients undergoing local anesthetic listen to their favorite music, and they found out that the patients were more comfortable. The CRNA’s quit teasing me about listening to the classical music station after that.

I KNOW the power of music, but too many people don’t. If they did, my life would be a lot easier. (And a lot richer…)

Do your own experiment. Try a day without music. Then try listening to different kinds of music to see how you feel. Hip Hop vs. Swing? Country vs. Vivaldi? How do you feel when you are listening to your favorite music? I will bet my bottom dollar that you will feel differently. If you don’t, you aren’t alive. But you have my permission to skip the Pachelbel.


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