“I am incredibly passionate about the ways music can be used to help people and solve problems. I volunteer for Sing for Hope because it is an incredibly joyful experience. It is an immense privilege to walk into a veteran’s room and share an uplifting musical moment with them. Sing for Hope reminds us that no matter what we are facing in life, what we need most is a sense of connection and hope.”
Shannon Pelcher, Musician & Sing for Hope Volunteer Artist
Music has the power to lift us out of a bad mood and relax us when we’re stressed — this much we know from experience. But can music have a significant, lasting effect for more serious anxiety or depression?
A growing number of studies indicate that it can, whether by TRIGGERING THE RELEASE OF ,FEEL-GOOD CHEMICALS in the brain, bringing back happy memories from the past, or STIMULATING NEW AREAS OF THE BRAIN.
For the thousands of soldiers returning from combat with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this promising evidence of music’s healing powers may offer hope for a happier life.
Music therapy is not new to the military — in fact, it was the Department of Veteran Affairs that helped make music therapy an accepted treatment following World War II — but today there are more programs than ever before offering exposure to music performance and instruction as an integral part of treatment for PTSD.
At Sing for Hope, we recognize that whether in calming an anxious mind, giving a renewed sense of purpose, or providing a much-needed means of expression, music works through many pathways to heal and give hope. That’s why, for the past five years, the SING FOR HOPE HEALING ARTS PROGRAM HAS PARTNERED WITH MEDICAL FACILITIES AROUND NEW YORK CITY to offer Bedside Performances, Concerts, and Interactive Visits that encourage patients to relax, enjoy the music, and express themselves creatively.
Sing for Hope applauds likeminded initiatives around the country. Based in San Antonio, the Warrior Cry Music Project gives guitars, drums, and other instruments to wounded soldiers across the country and provides them with volunteer instructors. Patients confirm the positive results indicated by research: When you play music, you forget all about the pain, says one disabled veteran who volunteers as an instructor with the program, you forget all about being upset or whatever’s going on in your life and you’re happy.
The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious military hospitals, is home to similar programs that bring music instructors and instruments to patients, set up live performances to ,enhance the healing process, and even teach patients to compose and record their own music. While listening to soothing music provides relief from pain and anxiety, INTERACTING WITH THE MUSIC by learning a new instrument or composing empowers patients on another level. As the Musicorps program director at Walter Reed explains:
“Learning, creating, and performing music involves so many aspects of brain function that it is believed to recruit uninjured parts of the brain to compensate for parts that have been injured, and help those parts that are injured recover.”
Patients at James J. Peters VA Hospital in the Bronx relax as they listen to a chamber music performance by Sing for Hope Volunteer Artists.
Indeed, research shows that music often works where more traditional therapies fail. A study conducted in the UK showed that PTSD patients who didn’t respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy experienced a SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN THE SEVERITY OF THEIR SYMPTOMS WHEN THEY UNDERWENT MUSIC THERAPY. In a six-week study conducted in conjunction with the music therapy program Guitars for Vets, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found that music was not only beneficial in relieving patients PTSD symptoms, but also in REDUCING DEPRESSION SYMPTOMS AND IMPROVING OVERALL HEALTH AND QUALITY OF LIFE.
Renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks confirms that ,music may serve a role in medicine because it is PROCESSED IN MULTIPLE CENTERS OF THE BRAIN, while Barry Bittman, another neurologist known for his research in sound, music, and the brain, says that creating music, at whatever level, HAS STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MEDICINAL BENEFITS because it requires ,a high level of engagement on many levels.
The difference that our Volunteer Artists make in patients lives when they share their talent and creativity is palpable. In the words of Healing Arts Director Rachel Benichak, “the Healing Arts program brings you right into the personal and sometimes very raw spaces of those under professional healthcare. I’ve seen heart monitors steady, emotions be released, and more smiles than I can count. We may not always be able to quantify the results in numbers, but you can see the difference made in the lives of patients, family members and staff when a Volunteer Artist enters the room.”
For a closer look inside Sing for Hope’s Healing Arts program, see program director Rachel Benichak’s article HERE.