Monday, June 25, 2012

Music Therapy

Most of us by now have probably heard the news about 7-year-old Charlotte Neve who came out of a coma earlier this month in England when she heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” This may seem rather fantastical to some, however, the use of music as a medical treatment has been prominent since just after the Second World War. Another, equally incredible, example of music therapy being used is with Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s recovery from a gunshot wound. The congresswoman is said to have received music therapy treatments in order to assist her speech recovery with remarkable results. After a bit of digging into how music therapy works and some of its proven benefits these two cases may begin to seem less extraordinary.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as, “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” It uses tools such as composing, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to aid its patients. The most common beneficiaries of music therapy are patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorders, brain injury, mental health disorders, and also high stress. This seems rather too good to be true, so how exactly does music therapy do all this? It has to do with how music affects the brain. No, I’m not talking about the much hyped and equally disproven “Mozart Effect,” but there are proven ways in which music affects the brain.

Have you ever spent days and weeks trying to memorize something (especially lists) only to finally give up, set it to song, and have it memorized within the hour?

This works because music helps recall memories by stimulating the hippocampus: the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory storage. Without getting too technical into the cognitive neuroscience of music  I can say that music benefits memory and language skills because it uses both left and right sides of the brain. It is also important to note that music that is familiar to the patient tends to evoke a more positive response; likewise, the degree of a patient’s affinity for the music can determine the degree of result.

What about access to music therapy in our local community? In terms of studying music therapy, there are over 70 AMTA approved college and university programs across the country. Within the top ten of these programs (and the program closest to home) is the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas which offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music therapy. Also, in Lincoln there are two AMTA certified music therapists (Tana Bachand and Crystal J. Sato) both serving the senior citizens of the community.

Visit the Polley Music Library for more information about music therapy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Over the past ten years the ukulele has been enjoying unprecedented popularity. Not since the 1960’s has the instrument received a fraction of the attention it currently boasts. Within popular culture it can currently be found being played by popular musicians such as Paul McCartney, Amanda Palmer, and Eddie Vedder, and by popular actors Zooey Deschanel and William H Macy. Even Omaha resident Warren Buffett has been known as a ukulele enthusiast for years. In addition to this, the ukulele is now starting to be used in the classroom setting by music teachers all over the country. So where did this instrument come from and why is it now so popular? I’m glad you asked.

The ukulele originated in Hawaii in the 1880’s. It is a combination of two Portuguese guitar-like instruments: the four-stringed cavaquinho and the five-stringed rajao.  While the modern ukulele has four strings like the cavaquinho, it is tuned in fourths like the rajao making the string tuning G-C-E-A. Within the Hawaiian culture, the instrument was promoted to prominence by King Kalākaua; a well known patron of the arts and writer of “Hawaii Ponoi,” the state song of Hawaii. It is because of his influence that the ukulele became synonymous with Hawaiian music and culture and has remained thus for the past one hundred and thirty years.

In the continental United States, the ukulele first came on the scene in 1915 when it was featured at the Hawaiian Pavilion of the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. From there it was picked up in Hawaiian themed Tin Pan Alley songs and by vaudeville performers. It was also used somewhat in early jazz music, but did not have a huge surge in public notoriety until the 1960’s. At this point the ukulele’s popularity was cultivated by use on the Arthur Godfrey Show as well as by Tiny Tim with his famous hit “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

In 2003 the ukulele was brought back to the limelight by Israel Kamakowiwo’ole’s recording of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This was reinforced and brought to the youth of pop culture by Jason Castro’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on American Idol in 2008.

In addition to being promoted to the youth of America as a now hip instrument, the ukulele is quite affordable. As opposed to acoustic guitars, which can range anywhere from $200 to over $2500, ukuleles can be bought for under $100; which is obviously a huge benefit in today’s economy. They are also much more portable than regular guitars. Music teachers love the ukulele not only because of its affordability, but also because it is easy to learn and appropriate for all ages. It also promotes the musical multi-tasking skill of singing while playing and is FUN!

So whether you’re looking for a cultural music experience, wanting to broaden your knowledge of stringed instruments, or simply wanting to entertain yourself by the pool on a sunny summer day, the ukulele may just be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.