Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Tapping the Power of Music — Part I

By Nancy Sokoler Steiner

"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything." — Plato

Sometimes, the things we like aren’t so good for us. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with music. It doesn’t have any calories, can often be obtained for free, and doesn’t require any special skills or abilities to be enjoyed.

In fact, music has shown a host of benefits, both physical and emotional. That’s one of the reasons it plays such a large role at the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

In terms of physiological changes, a Cochrane Review study (a study which looks at many studies) found that music reduces pain, sometimes enough to decrease required dosages of pain medication. Studies with cancer patients have shown that music therapy decreases heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. And researchers in Europe have found that exposure to music can both raise the levels of antibodies and lower the amount of stress hormone levels.

Studies on the emotional impact of music show similar benefits. One study done with college students, for example, found that listening to music conferred more positive emotions. Not only that, but the music intensified already positive emotions.

“We humans know instinctively that music has primal power,” says Elena Mannes in her book The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song (Walker & Company, 2011). “Historians and anthropologists have yet to discover a culture without music.”

Los Angeles Jewish Home Resident Tess Friedman, 87, describes music this way: “It elates me.”

Friedman joined the Home’s choir when she came here four years ago. “It’s a way to not let yourself be old and to forget about aging,” she says about singing. “You can change your whole attitude and behavior for the day.”

Caryl Geiger, Activities Director for Residential Care, sees this effect among many residents. Professionally trained in piano and voice, Geiger directs the Home’s choir. “Everybody leaves [practice] happier than when they came in,” she says.

Lee Zuckerman, 89, was delighted to rediscover the joy of song when he joined the choir six months ago. He’s always enjoyed music – his son even became a composer – but hadn’t sung since he was in his high school choir. “I love music. I feel joy when I sing.”

But you don’t have to sing in order to experience music at the Home. In addition to enjoying the choir’s performances, residents can take advantage of a variety of musical offerings. Concerts are offered almost every Sunday afternoon, and there are also programs on Jewish music and regular sing-alongs. In addition, violist and music historian Joel Lish presents weekly music appreciation classes.

“All levels of residents respond to the music,” says Lish, founder and director of the Palisades Symphony. “Some sing along, clap to the rhythm or even play along on an imaginary instrument.”

Music will always be an integral component at the Jewish Home. As author and researcher Elena Mannes says, “Anyone who has been transported by Bach or Mozart, moved to weep by a national anthem or hymn, stirred to dance by a rock rhythm, or transported in time by the notes of a pop tune from the past knows the power of music.”

Nancy Sokoler Steiner Nancy Sokoler Steiner is a freelance writer and author based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Lifestyles Magazine, among other publications.

Labels: , , , , , ,