Human beings live and move through the world in a musical way, from the rhythmic pulsing of our hearts and blinking of our eyes to the cyclical processes of our physiological patterns. Regardless of any training or predisposition to the arts, we are naturally musical beings. Because of our inherent musicality, our lifelong associations with music, and the cultural significance of music around the world, engaging in music can be stimulating, energizing, comforting, or relaxing. In some cases, music can change our physiology by slowing our breathing patterns or stimulating a neurological release of dopamine or a reduction in cortisol. The benefits of music are boundless, and the impact of music can extend throughout the lifespan, and at any stage of illness or wellness.
In my role as a music therapist and psychotherapist at an urban cancer centre and a residential hospice in Toronto, Ontario, I provide live music for and with patients, families and staff, and offer psychosocial support through the process. In addition, I encourage the use of music for general relaxation, comfort, enjoyment, distraction, entertainment, and emotional support. While bedside music psychotherapy can be a powerful tool in an acute cancer centre, I encourage caregivers and staff to use music intentionally in recreational and therapeutic ways. Attending concerts, listening to music on a personal device, playing an instrument or singing in a choir can all be enjoyable, entertaining and relaxing options to support caregiver wellness and/or counteract the effects of caregiver burnout.
Consider your musical environment. We often live in a noisy and chaotic world, full of sonic pollution and distracting or unpleasant sounds. Consider how you might notice this, adapt to it or change it. Tuning into a classical or jazz radio station may promote a soothing atmosphere in the work place. Try enjoying intentional silence before falling asleep to create a calming environment. Notice how you react to different sounds. Create a new playlist through YouTube or Spotify, or revisit an old, familiar and nostalgic one. Attend a concert or go see a band that is entirely new to you; perhaps you’ll stumble upon something wonderful and surprising.
Music can be a powerful, effective, and unique form of comfort, relaxation, energy stimulation, nostalgic reflection, or community building. Try taking inventory of how music plays a role in your life and explore how you might be able to use music to enhance your sound environment, or the environment of someone for whom you are caring. Whether at bedside in a hospital room, sitting in a chemotherapy treatment chair, or going for a neighbourhood walk, music can accompany a multiplicity of experiences. Consider how music can affect the experience of your own well-being, or the well-being of a patient, friend, loved one or caregiver.
SarahRose holds a Masters degree in music education from the University of Toronto, and a Masters degree in music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is the founder and coordinator of the first music therapy programs at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Kensington Hospice in Toronto. Her clinical work and research is focused mainly on quality of life for acute palliative care, hematology, and hospice populations. She is also a Suzuki music educator, piano accompanist and singer/songwriter.