The BLOG: Lifestyle

Exploring the harmonious convergence of music and medicine

@RudyTanzi is the search phrase linking the Twitter-verse to the world renowned Alzheimer’s researcher and Professor of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Late last month an alternative link to his thoughts, and those of three distinguished colleagues, was offered to guests attending the HUBWEEK forum Mozart to Aerosmith at the Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation on the campus of MGH.

Joyce Kulhawik, former arts and entertainment anchor at WBZ , introduced attendees of the event to clinicians who shared anecdotes, video essays and quantifiable evidence that art is an empathic tool, an expressive language, with a unique ability to reach patients, families and inspire healers. The collective of brilliant, occasionally counter-intuitive thinkers, offered first hand accounts of how music in particular activates widespread neurological networks in the brain, strengthening hemispheric connections like no other artistic expression can. For them, music has medicine in its melodies.

Dr. Lisa Wong, past president of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. is an enthusiastic proponent of the arts. With 34 years of practice as a pediatrician she believes music encourages kids to aspire to excellence and teaches resilience. The life-long advocate of its powers, Wong says the art form increases opportunities to express emotion non-verbally. She’s experienced its therapeutic results personally as a violinist and professionally as a clinician caring for healthy kids and with little ones undergoing chemotherapy or cardiac care.

Spaulding Hospital’s Brian Harris is one of only 250 neurologic therapy fellows in the world. The MEDRhythms CEO’s focus is on the convergence of neuroscience, technology and music. Working with patients who suffer deficits caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke and neurologic diseases, Harris played a video showing how simple rhythmic phrasing can be a restorative tool that breeds success. His song and guitar presentation was heartfelt by those who witnessed how physical therapy combined with music helped two gentlemen achieve higher levels of function in gate and speech in shorter-than-anticipated periods of time.

(Photo by Diane Kilgore)

(Photo by Diane Kilgore)

As a cast member of local movie productions “The Town” and “Ted,” registered nurse Jane Reardon has a familiar face. The panelist of Mozart to Aerosmith added a uniquely sensitive dimension to the lecture having worked bedside in emergency rooms and at other MGH settings for more than a decade. Reardon said she tunes into the spaces where improvised humor, story-telling or music offers comfort with care. She spoke with empathy of how the arts relax and calm patients she’s cared for, making special note of victims of domestic abuse hyper-sensitivities.

Growing up in Rhode Island, fascinated by music, Rudi Tanzi, a nice Italian boy with an accordion and piano aspired to a career in a band. His family thought medicine a more fitting occupation for him. Bridging the two loves, Tanzi’s research has lead to, among other things, an app called Spark Radio. Available on iTunes, the app plays the youthful soundtrack of life for those suffering with various forms of dementia. Spark Radio calls upon decade-specific music to provide back-door access to recorded memories that seem otherwise irretrievable. Relying on music’s emotional attachments to liberate thoughts, Tanzi has witnessed non-verbal patients suddenly repeat dialogues from their more passionate, court and spark days. Named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people of 2015, Tanzi feels playing music daily supplements his creativity, enhancing his research. Photographed in 2009 as “A Rock Star in Science” with music legend Joe Perry, Tanzi subsequently performed with Aerosmith on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and is a named keyboard contributor on the band’s 2012 Music from Another Dimension album.

For researchers and clinicians creating alternative, non-traditional treatment plans for patient care, functional MRIs provide documentation of music’s efficacy across age, ethnicity and gender. Twitter searches, algorithmic evaluations and MRI’s are unnecessary however for non-white-coaters to appreciate music’s profound empirical influences. Intuition tells us music has an elemental value in the quality of life.

The Mozart to Aerosmith conversation ended with Dr. Tanzi’s highly researched advice for all: “For instant gratification, no matter your age, play music and sing with your friends!”