Scientists and sound engineers alike are converging on Fort Wayne this week seeking the secrets of soothing music.
Part piano concert, part physics lesson, the conference is all intellectual collaboration. It’s bringing together physicians and musicians to address a central question: How can music heal? Answers, organizers say, are elusive.
The conference Friday and Saturday at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne stems from a research effort that joins music departments at IPFW and the University of Arizona.
The resulting non-profit Alliance for Research in Music Medicine, or ARIMM, draws researchers from around the world in various disciplines.
Speakers will talk about the latest research on how music can affect inflammation and chronic disease, plus new treatment strategies. Some presenters will focus on the music within.
Research for music therapies is growing. IPFW has a decades-old bachelor’s program, graduating music therapists who work in hospitals and schools.
But wider application of music medicine requires more study, and skeptics remain.
“We need to take a look at the cellular symphony that’s going on within our body,” says Dr. Angela LaSalle, co-founder and chairwoman of ARIMM, who practices with Fort Wayne Endocrinology. Everything vibrates, she says. “How do we listen to that?”
According to LaSalle, more sophisticated tools are needed to study sounds at a molecular level that are indiscernible to the human ear. The next step would be talking back to the cells in a way that leads to healing. LaSalle says it’s all preliminary, but she is hopeful that front-line therapies will eventually result from this type of inquiry.
She acknowledged in a statement that current “research in the area of music-based therapies falls short of convincing the medical community to use these as front-line therapies.”
Dr. Vidya Kora, immediate past president of the Indiana State Medical Association, has heard how soothing music can lower blood pressure.
He’s familiar with studies showing its effect on creativity and knows of surgeons who use music in the operating room, believing it helps in the healing process.
But Kora, a general internist, says he would need to see controlled studies establishing cause-and-effect relationships before he practices music medicine or other alternative therapy. Not knowing how something works leaves room for doubt, he says.
“That is the reason we all approach these (alternative therapies) with a certain degree of skepticism.”
On the other hand, Kora acknowledges, society relies too much on pills.
“If we can manage certain conditions without pharmaceuticals, obviously that would be the first preference,” he says.
Supporters of music medicine say they are not trying to supplant medications and surgery but want to attack problems with various treatments. Music therapy is already used many areas, including medical.
Music therapists work with people individually to help manage pain, illness and stress, says Nancy Jackson, IPFW’s director of music therapy and a co-founder of ARIMM. Twenty-six students are enrolled in the music therapy program. It takes at least 4 1/2 years to complete and includes a 1,040-hour clinical internship.
In the field, music therapists work with clients in many ways, from making music to listening to recorded music.
Studies show music can relax people and affect immune function, might enhance growth and might reduce the length of stay for premature infants, among myriad other effects. But little is known about how it does this.
“We always feel as though we’re missing some piece of the puzzle,” Jackson says.
Organizers hope conference-goers will help shed light on the subject.