There Is Always Hope: How Music Saved My Life

A couple of months ago, I was asked by To Write Love On Her Arms to do a post on my experience with depression, music, and being a suicide survivor.

This is my story.

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For as long as I can remember, my greatest aspiration has been to study psychological resilience and music. Having begun touring as a singer from age three, my furthermost joy and identity were formed in creating and performing music. As I attempt to place these thoughts in tangible form, I’d like to explain where the past year of my life has taken me, and how this hope has finally come to be realized. I’d like to tell you how music saved my life.

       On July 9, 2013, I grabbed sushi with a dear friend from college. It had been at least a year since we’d seen one another due to his relocation to another state. We had a wonderful dinner, his charisma weaving grandiose patterns of laughter and jokes to make up for lost time. To this day, he remains the only friend who could ever get away with his hysterical manner of picking me up and spinning me around. It was simply his way of saying “Hello.”

       The following afternoon, as I was on my way to Stanford University to cover a behavioral science and creativity conference, I received an urgent phone call from the Los Angeles Police Department. After an inundation of bewildering questions and the request that I be sitting down, I was alerted that my friend had sustained a perplexing and potentially fatal injury. The following two months would consist of a blur of countless ER, ICU and eventually hospice visits, and even more fatigued phone calls from detectives, friends, and families in attempt to speculate every detail as to my friend’s condition. After failing to regain consciousness, my friend died on August 21, 2013 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was twenty seven.

        In the months following my friend’s suicide, the protracted plagues of devastation, anxiety and sheer panic made it painfully clear that I was suffering from severe depression. I had battled fear before, but the danger of self-harm from my perceived terror of abandonment now hit an all-time high. Something about being the last person to see my friend before he took his life had finally made my very existence seemingly unbearable. I simply couldn’t imagine a reality where I would ever feel whole again. Somewhere along the way, however, something began to penetrate the walls I had built. Maybe it was that night of such unbearable emptiness, resulting in my frantic request of a trusted friend, “Why can’t you just tell me it’s going to be okay?” I’ll never forget his response: “Because it’s going to be okay whether I say so or not.”

       For possibly the first time, I realized that no matter how much people love and cherish you, sometimes, they can’t be there. It was not until this year – twenty eight years into my life – that I was truly faced with the chief insecurity of uncovering and confronting my own sense of self. It hit me then: I had built my entire value solely upon the affirmation of others. How would I ever afford unconditional love and hope if I did not possess it for myself?  It took more correspondence with prudent souls, more star-filled nights, more floods of tears and more compassionate, tough love from friends than I ever thought possible, but eventually, I began to understand that a lifetime’s lacking of my own self worth had been, in fact, the greatest torment of all. Slowly, with the help of my music and a lot of blind faith, I decidedly began the harrowing task of turning inward to face a past that had hidden profoundly in the dark for far too long.

       As I discovered that in music could be found the tools for defense, it quickly became all but Pavlovian. With each resurfacing memory of the loss of my father, of my friend, or even the type of violations that I as a young woman should never have had to endure, it began to feel like there was no margin in what could be taken from me, save my headphones screaming louder than any external threat or captor. I recalled that when at age eighteen I witnessed a childhood crush lose his longstanding battle with cancer, a piano, and occasionally present kindred spirit, taught me that three keys struck within a proper distance could form a chord. Those chords at once revealed the earliest potential of more than an escape – they provided the will to keep going.  It was within the process of witnessing my own hopelessness slain by the dogged determination playing before me like a vivid, striking film sequence that I cemented an acute desire to help others through their pain.

Steinway

        It was not quite until really digging in to the psychology of music that I found the possibility of a way not to dull the pain, but utilize it for courage. When my collapsed sense of self risked self-harm, gentle souls appeared to remind me of what I’d already overcome. When the radiant pangs of feeling alone threatened to overtake me, I discovered mercy and anticipation in composing. When I found myself paralyzed by the searing agony of depression, exterior melodies stepped in to share my burden. This award of music had not only provided oxygen for my lungs; it had yielded a powerful breed of strength and beauty within me – the will to struggle, and the will to survive.

       While covering a music industry event in Hollywood this Spring, I had the pleasure of speaking to Benjamin Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. As a friend had alerted me of Ben’s advocacy for youth suicide prevention (The You Rock Foundation in particular), I took the opportunity to ask him what it was about the process of creating music that had helped him in overcoming adversity.

“When I was growing up, I had a lot of difficulties in school. I had certain learning disabilities that made it difficult for me to process information in the way it was presented by a typical school curriculum. My experiences left me feeling extremely isolated and insecure. When I started playing music, I realized that intelligence had nothing to do with one’s ability to excel in the classroom environment. It gave me passion. It gave me confidence. I was able to make friends and also figure out new ways of learning. Creating give me purpose every day and will for the rest of my life… Music saved my life.”

The Dillinger Escape Plan live at Porter’s Pub, San Diego, 2014. Photo by Diana Hereld.

       Like Ben, I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because we are living attestations. It is utterly apparent that the pleasure of simply working in music sustained me through my more anguished, desperate moments. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis stated “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said “The only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.” I have felt this terror, and desperation – but I have also perceived the call of this courage.

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       A little over a year ago, I got the call about my friend. Over three hundred and sixty five days have passed since the night I thankfully had the cheek to gleefully yelp “Love you, buddy!” after my friend as he walked away; one hand in the air like an old fashioned movie star. Over the past twelve months, I have been granted more exposure to trauma, mental illness and mercy than I’d ever imagined possible. I have been made aware of more triggers in my subconscious than I felt I could handle, and I have been forced to confront them head on.  I’ve loved and lost more deeply, and written more music than ever before. I’ve applied to, and received a full fellowship to attend my top choice grad school for music and psychological resilience beginning this month. My friends have become my family; my songs that rare blend of confidant and hope. Though I have feared the dangers of losing emotional jurisdiction over my own life the most, I have realized that sometimes, it’s okay to let go, and press on – even when the route is unclear. As Bukowski famously quoted “As the spirit wanes, the form appears.”

       Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my friend. He touched the lives of so many, and I can only pray that I will one day repay him by giving back the selfless love he radiated to everyone around him, and by furthering the cause to ease the hearts of those struggling to find hope.

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       I want to tell you, dear reader, that regardless of the tactless tragedies or inconsolable madness you may be undergoing, there are others. It’s not just that you are not alone – of course you’re not. You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a humanity of enduring creatures, and an enclave of people who not only want to understand, but do understand. As unimaginable as it might sound at times, there is so much love to be found. If you’re standing on the beach at sunset, savor it while it lasts. If you’re going through hell, keep going. The impermanence and temporal nature of existence only contribute to its need to be treasured. For me, it has been my faith in God, and the self-awareness, hope and love I have found and tried to share though music. In the end, it is very possible that only we can save ourselves, but it is often the intrinsic beauty of life and dear ones surrounding that offer the priceless reminder that we can, and should. In the profound words of author Jennifer Hect, “We are indebted to one another and that debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” Please stay, and please keep going. You will make it though, and it will be more radiant and precious than anything you can possibly imagine.

Diana Hereld, UCSD, Fall 2014

To those who have sustained me through the darkest and brightest of times:

As I continue to research the neurology of self-destructive behaviors and the psychological interventions that might be employed via music, I can only convey my infinite gratitude for whatever role, small or gargantuan; you have played in my life. I love you all. And thank you for the music.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on what The You Rock Foundation is doing to help youth overcome depression, follow them on FB and stay tuned for their official launch at http://www.yourockfoundation.org . Follow them on social media here -

twitter.com/YouRockFND
instagram.com/yourockfnd
youtube.com/yourockfnd

For more information on Benjamin Weinman and The Dillinger Escape Plan, visit here and here.

Dream a Little – 2nd Bilingual Children’s Album by Nathalia Palis

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From time to time, I am privileged enough to be a part of helping a friend or colleague pursue their professional endeavors. Every now and then, these endeavors find themselves very near to my heart. I first met Nathalia Palis a few years back when I was training as a Mommy & Me music teacher. Not long after, I found myself in her employment as an early childhood music educator. During the time I worked for Nathalia, I was exposed not only to her contagious love for children and music, but also to her unique expertise in devising and implementing fun and effective curriculum. She is a gifted music therapist with expertise in neurologic music therapy and child development. Please do check out and help to support her newest project aimed to enrich children’s lives through the educational and fun use of bilingual music.

Hi Everyone!

Since the release of From Here to There 2 years ago, I have had so much positive feedback from parents and children, it was only a matter of time before album #2 would be complete. Continuing with the same bilingual (Spanish/English) approach, the biggest challenge for me this time around was coming up with clever themes and lyrics that make the ‘back and fourth’ of the two languages sound as natural as possible. The songs are in a variety of styles performed by some seriously amazing musicians from all over the world. I think you will find that Dream a Little takes kids music to an all-new level. Click on the video and have a listen for yourself!

The goal is to raise $3,000 for artwork, mastering and manufacturing of the discs. Any amount is greatly appreciated. If you can’t contribute, sharing the campaign is just as much appreciated. Left over funds will go towards the last day of shooting my new music video :) Thank you all so much!

~Nathalia~

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/254684160/dream-a-little

Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

Brain Sci 2014 Jun 10;4(2):405-27

Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

(Moore E, Shaefer RS, Bastin ME, Roberts N, Overy K)*

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“In recent years, musicians have been increasingly recruited to investigate grey and white matter neuroplasticity induced by skill acquisition. The development of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DT-MRI) has allowed more detailed investigation of white matter connections within the brain, addressing questions about the effect of musical training on connectivity between specific brain regions. Here, current DT-MRI analysis techniques are discussed and the available evidence from DT-MRI studies into differences in white matter architecture between musicians and non-musicians is reviewed. Collectively, the existing literature tends to support the hypothesis that musical training can induce changes in cross-hemispheric connections, with significant differences frequently reported in various regions of the corpus callosum of musicians compared with non-musicians. However, differences found in intra-hemispheric fibres have not always been replicated, while findings regarding the internal capsule and corticospinal tracts appear to be contradictory. There is also recent evidence to suggest that variances in white matter structure in non-musicians may correlate with their ability to learn musical skills, offering an alternative explanation for the structural differences observed between musicians and non-musicians. Considering the inconsistencies in the current literature, possible reasons for conflicting results are offered, along with suggestions for future research in this area.”

And for our Italian friends:

In tempi recenti i musicisti sono stati sempre più spesso reclutati per indagare la neuroplasticità della sostanza grigia e bianca indotta dall’acquisizione di nuove abilità. Lo sviluppo della risonanza magnetica a tensore di diffusione (DT-MRI) ha permesso un’indagine più dettagliata delle connessioni della materia bianca all’interno del cervello, permettendo di rispondere a quesiti che interessano lo sviluppo della neuroplasticità indotta dal training musicale. In questo studio, si discutono le potenzialità di questo metodo e si evidenziano le differenze di connettività riscontrate nel cervello di musicisti e non musicisti. Globalmente, la letteratura attuale tende a supportare un aumento della connettività interemisferica indotta dalla pratica musicale, con differenze significative trovate nelle varie regioni del corpo calloso dei musicisti rispetto ai non musicisti. In ogni caso, le differenze nelle fibre intra-emisferiche non sono sempre replicate, mentre le osservazioni riferite alla capsula interna e al tratto corticospinale sembrano essere contraddittorie. Esiste anche una recente evidenza che suggerisce che la variabilità nella struttura della sostanza bianca nei non musicisti possa correlare con la loro capacità di acquisire nuove abilità musicali, offrendo una spiegazione alternativa per le differenze strutturali osservate tra i musicisti e i non musicisti. Considerando le incongruenze nella letteratura, gli Autori propongono una possibile spiegazione per i risultati contraddittori, suggerendo una strategia per la ricerca futura in quest’area delle neuroscienze.

*(1 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK; 2 SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA; 3 Centre for Clinical Brain Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 4 Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC), University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 5 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD),Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK)

“Neuromusic News” edited by Fondazione Mariani.
Contributors: Luisa Lopez, Giuliano Avanzini, Maria Majno and Barbara Bernardini.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

CALL FOR PAPERS – 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (Long Beach)

APCAM 2014 Call for Papers

The 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (APCAM 2014) will be held on Thursday, November 20 (at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach Hotel) in Long Beach, California. APCAM is a one-day satellite meeting affiliated with the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. The goal of APCAM is to bring together researchers from various theoretical perspectives to present focused research on auditory cognition, perception, and aurally guided action. APCAM is a unique meeting in its exclusive focus on the perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of audition. Another unique aspect of APCAM is that it recently has become a FREE EVENT FOR ALL ATTENDEES.

The Organizing Committee welcomes not only empirical, but also general theoretical and methodological submissions on a variety of auditory topics, including (but not limited to) the following areas:

Localization, motion perception, and spatial cognition
Object, event, and pattern perception
Aurally guided action and navigation
Auditory scene analysis
Timing and attention
Pitch, loudness, and timbre perception
Music perception, cognition, and performance
Comparative auditory processing
Behavioral neuroscience
Speech
Memory and source identification

Submissions should include an abstract of 300 words or less, the title of the proposed presentation, names and institutional affiliation information for all contributing authors as they should appear in the conference program, as well as e-mail contact information for the primary/submitting author. Abstracts should be submitted online by following the Submit link on the APCAM website (www.apcam.us); this submission portal is expected to become active prior to the end of June. Authors also can communicate directly about submissions with the Chair of the Organizing Committee at hallmd@jmu.edu.

Each submission also should indicate whether there is a preference for an oral or poster presentation. The committee will make every effort to accommodate presentation preferences, though it may not be possible to honor all requests. Given the limited number of oral presentations, authors traditionally have only been permitted a single oral presentation. If there are more accepted abstracts with an oral presentation preference than there are available presentation slots, preference will be given to papers judged to represent the strongest contributions, as well as to participants who did not deliver an oral presentation at the immediately preceding APCAM.

Additionally, the Organizing Committee welcomes proposals representing either a cluster of 3-4 related abstracts or a possible (45- to 60-minute) panel discussion on a unified topic. Related abstracts can be submitted separately, along with a separate abstract (still 300 words or less) from the coordinating author. Proposals for panel discussions will only require this latter type of abstract. The abstract from the coordinating author should indicate the motivation for, and the nature of, the proposed session, including a brief overview of the fundamental issue(s) that it hopes to address. A listing of contributing authors for the session also should be provided, along with a brief statement about what each author will discuss. Such abstracts are expected to be included in the printed program if a proposal is accepted. Preference will be given to proposed sessions that cut across research domains and that have important theoretical implications and/or practical applications. Additionally, panelists for proposed sessions should be selected based upon their areas of expertise, and thus their ability to actively contribute to the discussion. Panel discussions should be designed to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of questions/participation from the audience either at the end of the session or interspersed throughout the panel discussion.

The deadline for submission of abstracts and all program proposals is October 1. While this traditional deadline is very close to the conference date, all authors are expected to be notified about the status of their submission very rapidly after the submission deadline. Travel and reservation information can be located through the APCAM website (www.apcam.us), which includes a link to details found on the Psychonomic Society site (http://www.psychonomic.org/general-information).

If you are interested in attending APCAM, but do not anticipate being a contributing author, then you can register simply by sending a brief e-mail that includes your name and affiliation to hallmd@jmu.edu. Contributing authors will be registered automatically, but are asked to indicate at the time of submission which authors are expected to attend the meeting.

Phenomenological Experience in Music: Between a Referential and Absolute Approach

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Last weekend, experts across the board in the field of music and science convened to present Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music. Presented by the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at University of California San Diego, the symposium brought together the fields of music, psychology, computational and affective neuroscience, ethnomusicology, composition and education.

Organized by a series of four talks entitled Systems, Communication, Transmission and Translation, and Convergence, the symposium played host to a multitude of research and education in a musically unifying setting. The panels of the day covered topics including the temporal dynamics of neural processing (Mark Tramo, UCLA), phenomenological experience in music (David Borgo, UCSD), music and language in early development (Gwendolyn McGraw, artist/educator), and the speech-to-song illusion (Diana Deutsch, UCSD).

One dialogue I found to be of particular interest was the closing discourse of the first panel. Originating in conversation with the differing approaches to creating music, the dialogue surrounded American musicologist Leonard B. Meyer’s two theories of music and emotion. Referential composition tends to use association and experience as main creative tools, whereas absolute composition relies on solely intramusical structures and relationships. As these two theories (which might also be translated into nature vs. nurture) are not mutually exclusive, they were broadly debated. While songwriter Mark Tramo provided a case for the referential composition process, expressing an opinion that popular music is mainly associative/emotion-driven and serious music absolute, composer Lei Liang offered a more integrative, alternative estimation.

In describing his experience upon coming to UCSD, Liang spoke in regard to a newer, particular generation of composers:

“It’s a very interesting tension. The music can make you not only have fun, but also… you can cry with it, because you can tell that they’re not just creating an absolute piece that engages their brain, but in fact I was amazed by how much trauma, how much pain and joy they’re open to bringing into the public arena. As a way of responding, I feel like the composers and what they are willing to engage with in their material has been changing a great deal, and there is this kind of merge from the performer’s point of view as well. There is a lot of interaction taking place.”

While the referential style relies more heavily on calling upon experience from the past (frequently resulting in the release of oxytocin or dopamine in the composer’s brain), the absolutist method has strictly to do with music and expectancies generated by tonal relationships, and thus focuses more prominently on theory, structure and analysis.

Building on his prior explanation of the role music plays in phenomenological experience, Professor David Borgo offered concise thoughts in regard to the referential/absolute dichotomy:

“For me, it does often come back to the relationship between what I do as a performer, creator, and improviser, and the kinds of questions I’m interested in. When one is thrust into that moment of musicking, in some ways, there is no dividing line between the things that you bring to bear on the moment, be it a lifetime of experience, or dealing with/expecting certain things. Ultimately to open oneself to the moment means to be aware of all of the referents, all of the context that’s happening at that moment, the rich complexity of the room, and the people you’re playing with and for. For me, it can all come down to the fact that these sets of resources that might seem distinct are also thrust together in the musicking moment.”

The symposium also included noteworthy talks by ethnomusicologist Alex Khalil on The Gamelan Project, Dane Harwood on music as a communication system, Gwendolyn McGraw on music and language in early development, composer Katarina Rosenberger on the complex relationship we have with our voice, and principle of the Museum School Carl Hermanns on the importance of music in education. Building on this year’s momentum, the conference is set to reoccur next year to again provide a platform to confront and address divergent attitudes and philosophies in the understanding of music and science.

Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment

 “Here, at a point when the will is the highest danger, art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue.”

- Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Though I’ve held an interest in music’s healing capacities for many years, it’s only recently come to my attention just how quickly the field is growing. Music therapy is a practice in which an MT (Music Therapist) uses music-based interventions to address non-music goals with a client. As music is multi-modal, engages the brain and body across multiple domains, and is adaptable for people of all abilities, it continues to show promise in the medical field. With the growing prevalence of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s as well as the steady improvement in diagnostic means, the demand for music therapy professionals in higher than ever.

With the many recent developments in the field of dementia research, I have often found myself in dialogue with friend and colleague James Gutierrez (Ph.D. in progress, UCSD), especially in regard to current criticism of music therapy. As we both appreciate the consequence of the more basic, affective measures of music in creative practice as it applies to the therapeutic setting while retaining a firm belief in the necessity of empirical, effect-based evidence, I’ve had the pleasure of benefitting from many edifying conversations of this nature.

In music therapy, a common issue arises from the type manner research is conducted within the field, which is often achieved in the form of anecdotes, observations, and more qualitative data. As this is the case, many professionals and scholars in the field of medicine tend to “write off” such evidence as circumstantial and struggle to find the distinction between music therapy and “music as therapy.”

In the recent paper, Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment (2014) Gutierrez does an excellent job of addressing many of these current issues, choosing to focus most intently on the application of music therapy in patients suffering from dementia. Coming from a place of unique understanding, he combines solid, objective exploration in conjunction with more personal, poignant observations into concepts of identity, agency, and consciousness seldom found in an often dispassionate world of research. The following edit consists of excerpts I have found to be of particular interest to the layman and scientist alike. The paper may be read in its entirety here.

 Medical science in the modern age has, in the spirit of modernism, delighted in expunging any and all traces of the magical and mystical from the proper, scientific treatment of the human body. Even while archeological evidence suggests music’s wide centrality to medicinal healing practices for untold eras of human history[1], the Cartesian dualism that yet pillars modern medicine provides reason to station music as a matterless matter of the mind, with medical practice operates as the material treatment of the body. For inasmuch as medical science is a category whose domain includes anatomical structures and physiological processes, only health practices subject to empirical testing, measurement, observation, and quantification are considered proper ‘medication’. However, as the research of recent years has begun to unearth the complex physiological effects (not just affects) of music listening and musical practice, the critical gaze of medical science is beginning to shift, poised to reasonably reevaluate the efficacy of this timeless healing magician not just of the mind, but also of the brain and body.

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Outside the field of music therapy, particularly within burgeoning cognitive and neurological research, viable theories that attempt to explain the physical mechanics are gaining traction within the medical community. This research could be furthered by continuing to build upon an embodied and enactive approach to cognition, as such an ecological perspective not only shifts the aesthetic conversations away from stale romantic dualisms within artistic communities, but invites all who make the human body their subject to reconsider their most basic assumptions.

Among the most common areas of music therapy is in its implementation in the treatment (used loosely) of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy is not only gaining popularity among clinicians in end-of-life care for its astounding cost/benefit ratio, but is also spreading as the rising occurrences of these diseases increase demand. In anticipation of this rise several organizations have begun to push for renewed focus on prevention and treatment. On February 26th, 2014, actor/comedian Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and promote his research-funding charities.[2]  This comes on the heels of the historic “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012, calling for preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

This central focus has been brought to my attention through my own grandmother’s rapidly declining cognitive state and subsequent placement in the care of a hospice facility. To witness a loved one’s gradual decline into self-obscurity through loss of memory and awareness is not only tragic, as anyone who has done so will agree, but also perplexing, precisely because it challenges our conception of identity, not only theirs but ours as well. Once, after a particularly discouraging visit with my grandmother, when for the first time it took a matter of minutes for her to recognize her own daughter, my mother confessed “she is no longer my mother; not the mother that I know.” Any theory of consciousness desiring to describe the nature of the human state of mind when at its most ‘stable’ must also be tested to account for consciousness when at its most volatile- when autonoesis fails and all is a static cloud, when active agency slowly melts into a passive patiency, when all psychosocial capacities disintegrate involuntarily and nothing remains but inert solipsism. It is through studying this transitory final act when inner lights begin to dim and everything becomes strange and unfamiliar, that we can truly test what is meant by consciousness, and where all notions of mind and body essentially converge. Since music research from virtually all angles repeatedly reveal how immensely deep it delves into our individual identity and how expansively broad it affords a robust social identity, it is only too obvious for music to be deployed in the intervention of a fading consciousness.

Much has been written about music therapy as a tool to improve quality of life, if not also to slow the symptoms of dementia in the best scenarios, with most reports centering on qualitative research and anecdotal accounts. This softer focus on success stories may be par for the course, after all, end-of-life research is a tender field, and family members and medical staff typically have much more on their mind than entertaining the abstract probing of a curious consciousness theorist. Thus, for better or for worse, many of the most salient questions are left unasked.

Music as Therapy

At this point it is important to review the recent literature concerning the implementation of music in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The slow march towards a pharmaceutical cure feels optimistic, but does not seem promising. Moreover the monetary cost and side effects from the drugs currently available upset the cost/benefit ratio when considering the overall quality of life for an individual in palliative and hospice care. These factors have contributed to the growth of stimulatory therapies, including music therapy, in its appeal to virtually all involved (except, presumably, the pharmaceutical corporations). Music therapy, specifically, has grown more than any other due to its incredible cost/benefit ratio. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, and the deeply embodied/embedded/enactive nature of music cognition, the stronger the case become for music as a viable therapeutic treatment.[3]

Perhaps the most promising neurological support to the claims and efforts of music therapy hinge on the emerging studies within the mirror neuron system [MNS]. Though not much can be said for certain about these structures, particularly as they relate to humans, their ‘discovery’ has nonetheless provided an exciting new platform for discussing virtually any field of human interaction and learning, encouraging interdisciplinary discussions, and fostering theoretical models that render a classical cognitive model increasingly problematic through emphasizing inter/intra connectivity, and shared cognition.[4]

Building on MNS theories, one recent model offers a strong base toward a more substantive base for music therapy is the Shared Affective Motion Experience (SAME) model, which suggests that musical sound is perceived not only in terms of the auditory signal, but also in terms of the intentional, hierarchically organized sequences of expressive motor acts behind the signal. Thus, the expressive dynamics of heard sound gestures may be interpreted in terms of the expressive dynamics of personal vocal and physical gestures.

According to SAME, in observing the actions of others our MNS continuously compares predicted motions (kinematics) with observed motions in attempt to minimize the prediction error, enabling the observer to determine the most likely cause of the action at all levels: intention, goal, motor, and kinematic. This pull toward minimized prediction error would explain the effectiveness of personalized iPods over live musical interaction on reducing anxiety for dementia/AD patients. In addition to providing a harder base for the previously cited Psychosocial Model of music therapy, the SAME model also correlates to theories of embodied mind and intersubjective consciousness.

To regard the practice of music therapy as a psychotherapeutic stimulation therapy, and a marginal one at that, is understandable from a classical cognitivist perspective in which music exists representationally as auditory percepts to be processed with limited physiological impact. This is perhaps why present discussions regard music therapy as limited to its affective capacities in emotional support, palliative quality of life, and feelings of happiness; categorically separate from pharmaceutical medications which are understood to truly effect ones physiology. However, in positing a more deeply embodied perspective of music as a perturbation/compensation in a richly physical dynamic interaction between bodily experience and neural processes, there emerges a view of cognition that troubles the affect/effect dichotomy, and with it, assumptions of what criterion constitute legitimate vs. illegitimate medical treatments.

Music as therapy has its limitations, to be sure, and music therapy stands to discredit its case by overstating what relatively little research has yet been able to substantiate its claimed miracles. Becoming ever clearer, however, is that its limitations are not well described by the standard cognitivist model that dominates medical and psychological sciences. As embodied cognition grows in establishment, the doors widen for music therapy, and other traditionally holistic care practices, to further state, test, and prove their case as a valid treatment in the care of the human mind, particularly an embodied mind.

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[1] Conrad, Claudius, Music for healing: from magic to medicine, The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9757, pg. 1980, Dec. 2010

[2] Seth Rogen Opening Statement (C-SPAN), Feb. 26th, 2014 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHqx3-mfHAY

[3] N. Simmons-Stern, R. Deason, B. Brandler, B. Frustace, M. O’Conner, B. Ally, and A. Budson, Music-Based Memory Enhancement in Alzheimer’s Disease: Promise and Limitations, Neuropsychologia. 2012 December ; 50(14): 3295–3303

[4] There is some debate whether or not mirror neurons support classical representationalism

 

UCSD, Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center Launch Convergence 2014: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Mozart and the Mind present:

Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

A unique symposium that brings together multiple streams of music research and knowledge, Convergence is not only a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue but also an opportunity for collaboration. Neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and music therapists will participate in a series of panel discussions moderated by music researchers from the Temporal Damics of Learning Center. This multidisciplinary dialogue will extend into an evening poster session.

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 8am to 7pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center, Room127, UC San Diego
Map and directions to Conrad Prebys Music Center (CPMC)

For further information, registration, or webcast registration, please visit:
http://convergencetdlc2014.eventbrite.com

Registration: $45 general, $15 student

Featured Panelists

David Borgo, Diana Deutsch, Dane Harwood, Carl Hermanns, Mari Jones, Layne Kalbfleisch, Lei Liang, Andy McGraw, Gabriella Mussachia, Roger Reynolds, Katharina Rosenberger, Michael Thaut, Concetta Tomaino

Information provided by the UCSD Press Room

Convergence