Article contributed by Erin Haefner
Music is a universal and beautiful thing. Some use music as background noise on their morning commute, some like to use it as a motivational tool while they exercise, and some study it, wanting to learn how it works. Music can also be used as a healing tool because it connects us with our emotions, and helps us reduce the stress of everyday life.
But how can music help those with cancer? Listening and/or playing music can be calming and relaxing. Music helps us express and communicate our emotions in a safe way to help us find peace, comfort, and closure. Specifically with cancer, it can help reduce anxiety. In my personal experience, I tend to be stressed a lot of the time. However, whenever I listen to one of my favorite pieces of music, I realize that what I need in moments of high stress and anxiety was to slow my mind down, and purely listen to the music being made before me.
Here are some ideas on how to use music as a coping mechanism:
- Listen to a favorite song and think about why it means so much to you.
- Watch a video online of an instrument you have always wanted to learn more about.
- Check out some events put on by Mayo’s Center for Humanities in Medicine.
- Play an instrument or bang on a drum, this will create a sense of control, as the player controls tempo, sound, and mood through their playing.
- Ask your physician or primary care provider about Mayo’s Arts at the Bedside
On a personal note, music can also help find closure and peace after a death. Music has always been a very special part of my life. I have always been drawn to the way it has a huge emotional grip on me, and moves me to tears in many ways. I knew I was meant to be a music major when I went to my college’s Christmas concert when I was in high school. Each year, Luther College puts on a program called “Christmas at Luther.” In this concert, all five choirs perform, as well as the Symphony Orchestra. In addition to each ensemble performing two pieces, everyone participates in a few “mass pieces,” which are pieces everyone sings and plays on. The second to last mass piece of the concert is always a candle-lit piece. The only light in the entire auditorium is each choir member holding a candle. When I was a senior in high school, I went to the Christmas at Luther concert that year. The candle-lit piece was “The First Nowell,” which also happens to be my favorite Christmas carol. I am not sure whether or not it was the wonderful arrangement of the piece or the candles everyone was holding, but I couldn’t stop crying. I was so moved by the singing and the orchestra that I was a mess of tears. It was in that moment that I decided to become a music major, and study at Luther College. This past year’s Christmas at Luther, my choir sang a piece called “In This Place.” (Listen to the composer’s recording here). The lyrics to this piece are,
“In this place, I have been made new. I have been gifted jewels beyond price. In this place, greater dreams are given. I am made everlasting. In this place, I am light. In this place, in your sight. I am made everlasting. In your love, starting and ending. I will be carried softly to heaven. In your love, I am given beauty. I am made everlasting. You give the strength for me to hold. You are the hope that shines like gold. In this place, I am new. In your love, I am true. I will fly with angels to this place and be made everlasting. In this place, I have been made new.”
This piece is about death and dying. The lyrics embody a spirit going to a better place, where they can live again and thrive. The first time I listened to my choir’s rendition of the piece was the day we had to put my dog to sleep. By listening to this piece over and over again, letting the tears come and the emotion fall out of me, I was able to find closure and peace after a death.
Here is a good album of pieces to listen to about finding comfort and peace. What songs bring you comfort and peace this time of year?
Talk with others about how music is healing for you in the Music Helps Me discussion on Mayo Clinic Connect.