Changing Your Tune

If you’re like most people, your car radio is tuned to the same two or three stations day in and day out, and you download similar genres of music time after time. This holiday season, resolve to shake up your routine and stimulate your senses. Dare to stray from the mainstream as you discover new, even quirky artists. (In fact, you might want to add “fresh tunes” to your holiday wish list!)

Music, the vernacular of the human spirit, is generally considered to be an art rather than a science. Although music theory is based on pure logic, its melodies and rhythms have the power to heighten our joy and diminish our sorrow—transforming the inner soul to a natural, harmonious state.

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness,” wrote poet Maya Angelou.

Clinical studies show that music can accelerate the natural healing process of the body—and foster personal well-being, spiritual awareness, and flashes of brilliance.
When asked about his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein said, “It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.”

So what are you waiting for? Spending time on a plane or a train? Download something cool and intriguing to your iPod. Driving the kids to sports practice? Treat yourself (and your children) to a new and unexpected musical genre and turn mundane road time into a harmonious family experience.

Musical Healing

Remember the Oscar-nominated movie, Awakenings?  The film was based on the groundbreaking work and fascinating memoir of neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, who contends that music helped his brain-injured patients to move, even when the best medicine could not. Melodies also have prompted senile patients to recall lost memories, and speech-impaired individuals to recollect word connections.

Sacks writes, “The power of music to integrate and cure is fundamental. It is the profoundest non-chemical medication.” In fact, continued studies show that music can actually facilitate regeneration and repair of neurons. It’s also a tremendous relaxation technique. “In my own practice, I like to use background music to set a mood during a client session. Without a doubt, appropriate music can reduce stress,” says Betsy Hollo, a Morristown-based mental health therapist. “Because music is non-invasive and has universal appeal, it’s quite advantageous for daily listening.”

Hollo notes that, although her practice is generalized, some people seek out certified music therapists who specialize in developing individualized treatment and support for people of all ages and abilities.

Personal attunement can be facilitated by all forms of musical appreciation, so if you’ve always wanted to tickle the ivories or strum a guitar, there’s no time like the present. “Playing an instrument or dancing can relieve everyday stress, because the physical movement and rhythm promotes balance and wellness,” Hollo adds.

Music for Meditation
The next time you meditate on your yoga mat or relax in a tub full of bubbles (if you don’t, you should!), listen to Thomas Moore’s “Music for the Soul” or Poulenc’s “Salve Regina.” Or try the soundtrack from the movie Unfaithful or new-age music like Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast.

Norman Lowrey, professor of music and department chair at Drew University in Madison, is a classically trained composer, and author of traditional works for orchestra and chorus. A devotee of avant-garde music, he also creates masks with built-in instruments that are played in ceremonial performance.

“I regularly make recordings of birds, water, and crickets and shape them into soundscapes. Actually, a lot of composers are inspired by the environment. Once you take the time to become aware of what you’re listening to, you will begin to hear even familiar music with a new ear,” Lowrey says.

Lowrey’s compositions are “rooted in the deep-listening approach originated by composer Pauline Oliveros.” Considered by many to be the “mother of meditative music,” Oliveros advocates regularly listening to as many environmental and instrumental sounds as possible. It seems easy, but requires active engagement and mindfulness, not unlike learning to play a musical instrument. While hearing is passive, listening requires effort.

What does Lowrey enjoy listening to when he’s just hanging out? “Some of the new-age music can be a little saccharin. I prefer Oliveros’s recording called ‘Deep Listening.’ It was recorded in 1989 underground in a cistern that imparts a 40-second delay that creates an interesting echo effect. I find it to be relaxing.”

The professor’s tops picks in the “soothing music” category include Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” and Gerry Mulligan’s “City Lights.”

Lowrey also appreciates offbeat artists like edgy but soulful Tom Waits; the Eastern European folk-style band Beirut; and Klezmer tunes. Gypsy Punk is especially hot right now, he says. Have you experienced the cabaret-punk stylings of World/Inferno Friendship Society and Gogol Bordello? (To hear these musicians, visit, enter the artist’s name in the music search box, choose any album, then hit “listen to samples.”)

What’s Flying off the Shelves?
Gary Scotti is the owner of Scotti’s Record Shops ( in Summit and Morristown, a family business that has been around since 1956. Environmental and self-healing recordings are popular right now, Scotti says. “Doctors and health spas are even packaging classical recordings for ‘end-of-the-day listening’ under their own labels. Some customers enjoy ‘spiritual adventure’ music that has been recorded in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

“Everyone has their own definition of soothing music. I like to unwind by listening to light rock by David Gray, Ray LaMontagne, and Wilco,” he says. “But many of our customers prefer relaxing with the Grateful Dead or Phish. We all have different souls; we all prefer different kinds of music.

“People use music to establish a specific mood. It’s very personal. I sell music that I wouldn’t purchase—but I’m sure a lot of people would say the same if they heard what I listen to,” says Scotti.

Next time you catch yourself listening to the usual radio station or downloading the same music that everyone else is buying, do the unexpected and change your tune.— SB

Listen up!

Music Greats Take Note
“We need music to restore the human spirit.”
—Leonard Slatkin

“Music is so important. It changes thinking, it influences everybody, whether they know it or not. Music knows no boundary lines.”
—Irving Berlin

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an
explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everybody loves music.”

—Billy Joel

“Music is a higher revelation thanall wisdom and philosophy.”
—Ludwig van Beethoven

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Author: Issue: Nov/Dec 2009