How Music Helps with Mental Health

Will Tottle, an editor at My Audio Sound in the UK, has written an outstanding article on the benefits of music and music therapy on mental health – and that really includes ALL of us, doesn’t it?  I can definitively say that had it not been for classical music playing in the house while I was caring for my mother (almost all the time – even softly under the level of conscious awareness), that our mood, our conversation, and therefore our lives would have been intolerable!

playing music musician classic

Photo by Pixabay on

Each morning, I’d walk through the kitchen into Mom’s bedroom and she would know I was coming because I would turn the radio on first thing. It was always set to our local classical station, W-QXR (which is also available online if you are out of range).  Several people I know are caring for their parents now and I have seen how different our household was to theirs.  Without the constant discussion of medications and treatments, or comments that sound eerily similar to the way one would talk to a small child, many have little to talk about with their loved ones once a certain level of dementia is reached.

That was not the case with Mom and I as we talked about composers and instruments, concerts and conductors, or made up stories to match the piece that was playing. Because it was a memory for her from the age of about five when her father had her listen to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” and learn the peasant dance (‘I see you, I see you, tra-la-la-la-la-la’), it was an image that would always remain.  In fact, there were days that I would wonder if I’d made the whole dementia thing up, until she’d call me ‘Mummy’ or ask when Daddy would be home.

The radio or CD is still always on in my home, and I still use the power of music to help me through the times of my life: the classical “Greats” when I am sad or heartsick and don’t want to listen to the inane chatter of current radio announcers; Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie late at night when I have a deadline for a report; Broadway musicals to elevate my spirit and give me energy to tackle a project; opera duets to make me sing out loud, cry and wake up hidden emotions. The soundtrack from the 1983 film, Flashdance, still makes me want to exercise like a madwoman, and oddly, Frank Sinatra compels me to clean my house (that’s another story).

The Fifth Annual Conference for the International Society of Music in Medicine was just held in Barcelona, but it has been well documented since the 5th Century BC that music has been used as therapy for healing the body, soul and mind.  Only now do our MRI’s and PET scans show what the ancient Greeks knew: that listening, playing and writing music has an effect on the brain. I have become acutely aware in the last five years or so of what a large part it plays in our emotions and mental health and I feel compelled to encourage others to use it in the course of their caregiving duties.  Play what your loved ones want to hear, be it Elvis or Tex Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby or the Beatles – even if you need to have them listen with headphones so it doesn’t annoy you. It’s such a little thing but it really does make a huge difference in the quality of our lives!

I have a large collection of CD’s from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as well as symphonies, sonatas, concertos, ballets and new age music. I choose to listen to them the way a chef

headphones man music person

Photo by Burst on

selects spices, or a doctor recommends prescriptions. (I do the same thing with favorite inspirational books.) Should I ever find myself suffering a memory loss, I hope my caregivers will look to my collection to keep me happily occupied.

I encourage you to read Will Tottle’s article.  His research is impeccable, and he has included an extensive bibliography to back up his statements. His sources of information are current and relevant to anyone who is seeking an alternative or augmentative solution to drugs for the alleviation of symptoms of depression, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, autism, stress, insomnia, and a host of other conditions – as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

You can find his excellent post here.



Passing the Mantle

Last Thursday was the first anniversary of my mother’s passing.

All day long I toyed with what I could or “should” say on social media. I thought about all the tributes and photos that people place on Facebook at such a time, all the comments from friends and acquaintances alike who never met my mother, but who would in all probability post something kind or predictable.

I guess I’m just not a Facebook person, and frankly, I don’t know that I will ever be one of those people who advertise what they were thinking, eating, doing – although I acknowledge that for people of other generations, that is a perfectly good way to stay in touch.

However, since Mom’s passing, I have realized that I am now a Senior Citizen and therefore not compelled to act like a Millenial, Gen-X-er or Boomlet.  I am a BOOMER, and proud of it, and I still say VCR and ‘surf the web,’ which, according to, are several of the ten words that will show my age.  If I were they, I’d be less concerned about advertising my age than I would be to not recognize that ‘surf the web,’ ‘wet blanket,’ ‘Dear John letter,’ and ‘long distance call,’ are phrases and not simply words (of which the article declares there were supposed to be only ten).

Continue reading

I just love those Piano Guys!

I just love ThePianoGuys….  In case you haven’t ever heard of them, they play all  kinds of music in all sorts of ways.  They play on the tops of mountains, in the Scottish Highlands, in ice caves, on the beach, in a fountain, near the seven wonders of the world. And they have so much fun!!

Watch as they give a concert for some elderly folks in a nursing home.  I started to tap my feet as I watched. Will you do that too? Continue reading

Through the Looking Glass – Sharing a Memory with Dad

Today is the composer Philip Glass’ 80th birthday, and I have been listening to his music all afternoon.

My dad loved Glass’ music way back in the 1970’s, but I couldn’t quite get into it at that time.  I thought it was bizarre, avant garde and discordant.  A lot of people agreed with me, and egg-throwing was not uncommon at his concerts.  They couldn’t understand it, and back then, neither could I.

Continue reading

Music on the Brain

Get the Kleenex ready… I started crying quite a few times as I watched this video of the ‘Music and Memory’ project in Australia. 

Every morning when my mother was alive, I would come downstairs and put the radio on for her.  In addition to listening to the classical station, W-QXR, we would watch VCR’s of musicals including, “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi,” “Carousel,” “The Sound of Music,” “Camelot,” and many others.  Mama loved, “Fantasia,” and Disney was a genius in making that movie – it’s NOT just for kids!

Continue reading

One Year Anniversary

Today marks the one year mark of my blog and the anniversary of Beethoven’s 246th birthday.  (See my first blog, Music Therapy.) I have just finished watching, “Immortal Beloved.” Again. This year, I shared some of it with my son.  You’re never too young or old to learn about Ludwig.

A whole year has gone by since I started writing about natural caregimmortal-beloved-dvdiving, and so very much has changed for me. I wouldn’t know where to begin, so I won’t. I don’t want to look back – I am facing forward. What I do understand though is that many of us put our focus on things that don’t really matter, things that seem to give us pleasure, but in the long run, are inconsequential. I’m glad I spent time with Mom, even if it did mean forsaking a lot of things I might otherwise have done. I received far more than I gave up.

As she would always say, “People are more important than things.” Amen.


Continue reading

Long March Home

I am writing this in the midst of my mother’s “Long March Home.”

My sister called again this morning to talk and read to her. My Uncle and Aunt spoke to her from California and I know that my mother perked up and heard the love in all their voices. They will call again, and I am grateful for the peace they are helping to impart to my mother’s last days.

She is sleeping comfortably now, having refused all food and water for the past two days. She is in no pain, and of course she does not, nor will she, take any medication, so there is no need to call Hospice.  I had a lovely Christian Science nurse come for a visit yesterday to brief me on the finer points of caregiving (positioning, etc.), but other than that, it is a time of calm, quiet and tranquility. With no meals to prepare, I am at liberty to just concentrate on Mom and reflect on the sixty-five year history we have shared.

At the Beach 1956

I am surprised, and a little delighted, that the floodgates of my mind are opening and memories are just popping out of nowhere.  I choose to think about the happy times, not about the days or even hours to come. I don’t even want to think about my future without her in it.  There will be plenty of time for that, but the time is not now.

The radio is playing an opera that I’m not so crazy about, so I’m going to pop a CD into the stereo for us to listen to while I scan some photos.  I chose ‘WQXR’s 100 Best Classics,’  and a mix of selections including Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (Pastoral). The notes fill the air with beauty, and as always, lift us up when we need lifting.  Classical music has been an integral part of our lives. We have several musicians in the family, and I sing whenever and wherever I can (the shower, the kitchen, the car) – even when the songs don’t have words.

A world full of music is my mother’s idea of Paradise. When I was maybe twelve or thirteen, she told me about her experience of dying in the hospital from complications arising from an ectopic or tubal pregnancy. My sister Andrea hadn’t come along yet, and I was about three years old at the time. Now you may doubt what I am about to say, but I have no reason to believe that Mom lied to me. It was something you just didn’t talk about back then; people would think you were crazy.  (This was before everyone started cashing in on the ‘out-of-body’ stuff.)

Mom said that she had the feeling that she was floating, floating above the room. She saw the doctors working on her, but she heard music in the distance – beautiful music unlike anything she had ever heard before.  She turned in the direction from which it was coming and started to walk.  Everything glowed and sparkled, the way it can after it rains. She recalled saying to herself, “Oh.  Is THIS what it’s like to die?”


My Grandfather

Who knows how long she enjoyed that euphoric moment. But then, she had an overwhelmingly sad thought: “I can’t leave little Hillary alone!” And back she was in her body, facing pain and disappointment and loss and all the other human frailties.  Not for a day, but a lifetime.

She came back for me.

How could I do any less for her?  My mother. My teacher. My best friend.

She’s smiling now as she hears the familiar part her father first played for her on the phonograph when she was just four.  As she watched him Craftex the ceiling, he taught her the words to the scherzo melody in the Pastoral, “I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la. I see you, I see you, tra la la la la la…”

In her mind now, she’s dancing and skipping around the room.