Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 9 News List

'Take two concertos and call me in the morning': medical music

By Matthew Gurewitsch  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Remember the Mozart Effect? As propounded by the news media, the message was that listening to Mozart made children smarter. The science was full of holes, but the notion appealed and a growing body of research has since suggested that music, classical music in particular, is somehow good for us. The field is still short on evidence, but it has started a lively conversation between scientists and other experts.

“Listening to finer music and attending concerts on a consistent basis makes your real age about four years younger,” said Michael Roizen, the chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “Whether that’s due to stress relief or other properties, we see decreases in all-cause mortality, reflecting slower aging of arteries as well as cancer-related and environmental factors. Attending sports events like soccer or football offers none of these benefits.”

That music touches the core of our being is a discovery as old as human consciousness. Plato grappled with the powers of music in The Laws and other dialogues and he was hardly the first to do so. Shakespeare in several of his most poignant scenes dramatized music’s soothing effect on troubled spirits.

Healers of many sorts try to harness music for therapeutic purposes, if only as an adjunct to crystals, perfumes and green tea. But could music ever take its place as medicine?

One expert who is betting that it will is Vera Brandes, the director of the research program in music and medicine at the Paracelsus Private Medical University in Salzburg, Austria.

“I am the first musical pharmacologist,” Brandes said last fall in Vienna.

In that capacity she is developing medication in the form of music, dispensed as a prescription. To market the product line, she helped found Sanoson (sanoson.at), a company that also designs custom music systems for medical facilities.

“We are preparing for the launch of our therapies in Germany and Austria in the fall of 2009 and are anticipating the US launch in 2010,” she said.

Here is how the treatment works. Once the doctor has established a diagnosis, the patient is sent home with a listening protocol and music loaded onto a player much like an iPod. Timing is critical.

“Calming music heard at an ascending point in your circadian cycle wouldn’t calm you,” Brandes said. “It may even annoy you.”

The technology — which includes special headsets and formatting as protection against piracy — is proprietary. A patent application has been filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The music is proprietary, too. To avoid the interference of personal associations, the tracks consist entirely of original material.

“In our research, we have found that when people are listening to music they know, their reactions are entirely different,” she said.

Roizen and Brandes crossed paths last August at a symposium entitled “Music and the Brain,” presented by the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Orchestra during the orchestra’s residency at the Salzburg Festival.

Roizen, who is an author with Mehmet Oz of You: The Owner’s Manual and its numerous best-selling sequels, delivered solid substance with a showman’s flair in his talk “The Beneficial Effects of Music on Your Health.” Brandes, who was working on the program for Mozart & Science 2008, an international congress in Vienna last November, was in attendance and found that she shared with Roizen a passion for quantifying health effects that many have long taken on faith.

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