“The very fact that there are specific physical manifestations in response to specific thoughts proves the mind-body connection.” (From Julie Lieberman’s You Are Your Instrument, 1991, Huiksi Music, N.Y., N.Y.)

My work as a music practitioner puts me in daily contact with people who show repeatedly that specific thoughts lead to physical manifestations. So how does music work to facilitate transformation?

Before I ever worked as a music practitioner I was (and still am) a greyhound owner. I couldn’t help but notice how the dogs responded to the sound of my clarinet; deep sighs, stretching and rolling as if wanting to absorb more of the sound, and always seeking out the source of the music whenever I would play. One day I played especially for Beau whose time had come to be euthanized. I played because I knew he relaxed and got great enjoyment from the music. I also played so that he’d be free from (our) tension and fear of his very imminent transformation from beloved pet to cherished memory. When the vet came, Beau was relaxed and my husband and I felt he knew how loved he was. That was my first experience with using music as an actual healing modality.

“The key to it all is your intention. Intention combined with an accurate reading of your current condition gives important and helpful direction to the body.” (Lieberman, You Are Your Instrument.)

One day I commented to Louise, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, as she savored a homemade cookie, that she really knew how to make something good last. Louise smiled at me and said, “I’ve learned to go slowly so that it lasts longer.” Some people might look at Louise’s life and think, “ugh, I would want it to be over.” But here she was making each good moment last longer! Louise was healing and transforming her mental outlook. Healing is the letting go of fear, and health is inner peace. Louise showed that healing and health is found in the moment and not necessarily in the physical state of the body. Louise was healthy, although not in the conventional sense.

Music, and a musician with no intention, is simply going through the motions. Intention is an overall understanding of what’s needed, whether we can articulate how to achieve it or not. “We have an internal physician, the voice of love. It can be heard only when we recognize that it speaks not only in us but in the heart of everyone else, even the youngest child or the most unsophisticated and uneducated adult.” (From Bernie Siegel, M.D., Peace Love and Healing; Harper Perennial, N.Y., N.Y.)

The clarinet is able to give voice to the sad and sweet qualities of life. The sound, like a voice, has a universal quality. It conjures the memory of being sung to, but the words to the music are only what the listener remembers, or imagines they hear. Sounds, like smells, trigger memories, but sounds also trigger physical responses. Deep breathing, sleeping, walking, singing and dancing are all common outward responses I’ve observed while playing music for people (and animals.) Our bodies not only remember and store emotional trauma, but also deep joy and peace. That serene joy commonly takes the form of melody and lyrics. Like regular vacations to the same destination, songs can be journeys to that particular place that provides emotional and spiritual comfort.

A healing musician uses music because the vibrations stimulate brain chemistry, emotions, a sense of community, memories, and is overall, non-judgmental. Healing takes place when all those things come together, we move on, and are transformed.