Music, Science, Conflict Resolution, and Healing

Several days ago, I met with a group of internationally renowned neuroscientists who study the extraordinary healing power of music in the brain. I also met with an equally renowned musician who is interfacing with scientists, exploring and utilizing music to facilitate negotiations and conflict resolution.

First, I enjoyed a lively brunch meeting with a team of leading European neuroscientists visiting San Francisco after attending an international conference in Boston on music and the brain. Dr. Peter Schneider, from the Department of Neurology at the Heidelberg Medical School is the lead scientist in their group.

Our conversation ranged over many of the exciting discoveries about using music to treat depression, anxiety, pain and autism, and to facilitate learning and linguistic skills in children. Some of their latest work involves the impact of music therapy on dyslexia. This application of music therapy was news to me!

We spoke about the pioneering work of the recently departed Dr. Oliver Sacks. I was happy to tell them about the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York, headed by Dr. Sacks’ long-time associate Dr. Connie Tomaino. The European researchers were fascinated to hear of my experiences using music to work with veterans with PTSD and other challenges. While my stories of Heroes’ Voices bringing music into veterans’ lives were anecdotal rather than scientific, the scientists were very moved by my “in the field” accounts of the healing impact of music.

A few days later I had the privilege of meeting with Jonathan Dimmock, a world-famous organist based here in the San Francisco Bay area. My conversation with Jonathan was no less exciting and revelatory than the one I had just had with the neuroscience researchers. Like Heroes’ Voices, Jonathan’s new project seeks to give real world application to what researchers are learning about the power of music. He has created a non-profit organization that incorporates live music performance into conflict resolution meetings, and has amassed an impressive list of scientific and business advisors for the project. Here is a quote from the web site of Jonathan’s organization, The Resonance Project:

The cutting edge of neuroscience is studying how brains align with each other, and what stimuli provoke a response of increased altruism. The research shows that live music can stimulate brainwave synchronization of two or more people, facilitating the creation of mutually beneficial solutions.

It was almost dizzying for me to have these two extraordinary meetings within the span of just a few days. My day-to-day work with Heroes’ Voices includes the joy of creating personal healing experiences for veterans, but it also includes the more mundane challenges of navigating a small non-profit organization. Sometimes I feel a little lonely in that pursuit.

One of Heroes’ Voices goals is to make connections and partner with other service organizations. I was delighted to tell Dr. Schneider about Dr. Connie Tomaino and the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York. Serendipitously, Jonathan Dimmock is soon leaving for Germany where he hopes to visit Dr. Peter Schneider in Heidelberg. I look forward to maintaining and deepening my association with both of these new friends and colleagues.

Meeting with Jonathan Dimmock as well as with Dr. Peter Schneider and his colleagues reminds me that there is a vibrant international community of people working to explore and utilize the profound healing powers of music.

You can perform as a soloist, or you can choose to make music in ensembles of almost any size. Those of us who believe that music can change and heal the world are gathering in ensembles of symphonic proportion, and we’re just getting warmed up.