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The Healing Influence Of Music Continued

Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery

Dr. Herbert Lilly, in a monograph on musical therapeutics, expresses the

opinion that musical sounds received by the auditory nerve, produce

reflex action upon the sympathetic system, stimulating or depressing the

vaso-motor nerves, and thus influencing the bodily nutrition. He

maintains, without fear of contradiction, that certain mental conditions

are benefited by suitable musical harmonies. Muscle-fatigue is overcome

by stimulating melodies, as is strikingly exemplified in the effect of

inspiring martial strains upon wearied troops on the march. And it

appears to be an established fact that the complex process of digestion

is facilitated by cheerful music, of the kind termed "liver music" by

the French, which is provided by them at banquets.

But in regard to this subject, there have been not a few scoffers and

dissenters, even among people of distinction. Douglas Jerrold, the

playwright, was one of these, for he declared that he disliked dining

amidst the strains of a military band, because he could taste the brass

in his soup. Charles Lamb, in his chapter on "Ears," remarked, that

while a carpenter's hammer, on a warm summer day, caused him to "fret

into more than midsummer madness," these unconnected sounds were nothing

when compared with the measured malice of music. For while the ear may

be passive to the strokes of a hammer, and even endure them with some

degree of equanimity, to music it cannot be passive. The noted author

relates having sat through an Italian opera, till, from sheer pain, he

rushed out into the noisiest places of the crowded streets, to solace

himself with sounds which he was not obliged to follow, and thus get rid

of the distracting torment of endless, fruitless, barren attention!

According to his frank avowal, music was to him a source of pain, rather

than of pleasure.

The Reverend Richard Eastcott, in his "Sketches of the Origin, Progress

and Effects of Music," told of a "gentleman of very considerable

understanding," who was heard to declare that the rattling of a fire-pan

and tongs was as grateful to his feelings as the best concert he ever

heard. However, such rare exceptions, if not germane to our subject, may

be said to prove the general rule that music is of real value in

therapeutics, and that most people are susceptible to its beneficent


Music has accomplished a great many things and has been put to many

uses, but it is seldom employed in making good boys out of bad.

An almost accidental experiment at the Middlesex County truant school

at North Chelmsford has shown it to be a truth, that wickedness takes

flight at martial strains; for a full-fledged brass band, in which the

delinquent youths are the musicians, has fairly revolutionized the

discipline of the school, and many a lad who did not have half a chance

has been started "right" on the road to success.

The question is often asked: How can music effect a

character-metamorphosis in the boy who has every mental and moral

indication of turning out badly?

Music is an educative factor of prime importance, and promotes the

evolution of good hereditary traits. Whatever the psychologic

explanation of its effects may be, it appears to develop the qualities

of kindness and manliness.

Not every one, however, is influenced by the foregoing considerations. A

recent writer, in an essay on the "Plague of Music," remarks that under

the name of music we are afflicted with every variety of noise; for

example, the sounds produced by hurdy-gurdies, bag-pipes and minstrels;

the harpman, the lady who has seen better days, and who sings before our

house in the evening. "Not to mention the millions of pianos and the

millions of fiddles that never cease being thumped and scratched all the

world over, night and day. The contemplation of such collective discord

is truly appalling."

The famous English philosopher, Roger Bacon (1214-1292), known as "The

Admirable Doctor," wrote that a cheerful mind brings power and vigor,

makes a man rejoice, stirs up Nature, and helps her in her actions and

motions; of which sort are joy, mirth, and whatever provokes laughter,

as also instrumental music and songs, facetious conversation, and

observation of the celestial bodies.

It has been proved, by physiological experiments upon men and the lower

animals, that musical sounds produce a marked effect upon the

circulation. The pulse-rate is usually quickened, and the force of the

heart-beats increased in varying degrees, dependent upon the pitch,

intensity and timbre of the sounds, and the idiosyncrasy of the


It may be safely affirmed, therefore, that music should have a place

among psychic remedial agents.

A recent writer has remarked that the "Marsellaise" was like wine to the

French revolutionists, and lifted many a head, and straightened many a

weary back on some of those terrible forced marches of Napoleon's.

Music may be classed in the same category with certain drugs, as a

therapeutic agent. And like drugs, each composition has its own special

effect. Thus a brisk Strauss waltz might act as a stimulant, but it

would not answer as a narcotic. A nocturne would be sure to


The time may come when a German street-band will be recognized as a

powerful tonic; a cornet solo will take the place of a blister; a

symphony or a sonata may be recommended instead of morphine; the moxa

will give way to Wagner, and opium to Brahms. A prolonged shake by a

singer will drive out chills and fever, according to the theory of

Hahnemann. Cots at symphony concerts may yet command the highest


Music is one of those intangible but effective aids of Medicine, which

exert their healthful influence through the nervous system. It is in

fact a mental tonic. A writer in the London "Lancet" remarks that "a

pleasing and lively melody can awake in a faded brain the strong emotion

of hope, and energizing by its means the languid nerve control of the

whole circulation, strengthen the heart-beat and refresh the vascularity

of every organ. Even aches are soothed for a time by a transference of

attention, and why then should not pain be lulled by music?"

Robert Burton, author of "The Anatomy of Melancholy," in commenting on

the curative effects of music, remarked that it is a sovereign remedy

against mental depression, capable even of driving away the Devil


"When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then music with her silver sound,

With speedy help doth lend redress."

Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene 5.

The nurse's song, Burton wrote, makes a child quiet, and many times, the

sound of a trumpet on a sudden, bells ringing, a carman's whistle, a boy

singing some ballad on the street, alters, revives and recreates a

restless patient who cannot sleep in the night. Many men are made

melancholy by hearing music, but the melancholy is of a pleasing kind.

In a curious German treatise, "Der Musikalische Arzt," we find

the following quotation from an article entitled "Reflections on Ancient

and Modern Music."

"If it be demanded how musick becomes a remedy, and inciteth the patient

to dance, 'tis answer'd that sound having a great influence upon the

actions of the air, the air mov'd causeth a like motion in the next air,

and so on till the like be produced in the Spirits of the body, to which

the air is impelled."

According to the French physician, Jean Etienne Dominique Esquirol

(1772-1840), music acts upon the physique by determining nervous

vibrations, and by exciting the circulation. It acts upon the morale

by fixing the attention upon sweet impressions, and by calling up

agreeable recollections.

Francois Fournier de Pescay, a contemporary of the above-named,

commented on the fact that many famous writers of antiquity regarded

music as a panacea, whereas in the light of modern medical science, it

cannot be considered as an effective remedy in such affections as

rheumatism, for example.

An adagio may set a gouty father to sleep, and a capriccio may

operate successfully on the nerves of a valetudinary mother. A slight

indisposition may be removed by a single air, while a more obstinate

case may require an overture or a concerto. The tastes of the patient

should be consulted.

Country squires, when kept indoors by stress of bad weather, will

experience much relief in a hunting-song, while young gentlemen of the

town will perhaps prefer an old English derry-down. Hospital inmates

will usually be content with hurdy-gurdies, and the poorer classes may

be supplied with ballads at their own homes. Some patients will recover

with all the rapidity of a jig, while others will mend in minuet-time.

And surely the public welfare will be eminently promoted, when our

physicians' prescriptions are printed from music-type, and when we have

nothing more nauseous to swallow than the words of a modern


According to the Dutch physician Lemnius (1505-1568), music is a chief

antidote against melancholy; it revives the languishing soul, affecting

not only the ears, but the vital and animal spirits. It erects the mind,

and makes it nimble.

The Reverend Sydney Smith graphically described the effect of enlivening

music upon an audience, who had been manifestly bored and were gaping

with ennui during the execution of an elaborate fugue, by a skilled

orchestra. Suddenly there sprang up a lively little air, expressive of

some natural feeling. And instantly every one beamed with satisfaction,

and was ready to aver that music affords the most delightful and

rational entertainment.

And such is doubtless the opinion of the great majority of people of

culture and refinement, especially those of a jovial or mercurial

temperament. According to Martin Luther, the Devil is a saturnine

person, and music is hateful to him.

Many and sundry are the means, says Robert Burton, which philosophers

and physicians have prescribed to exhilarate a sorrowful heart, to

divert those fixed and intent cares and meditations, which in this

malady so much offend; but in my judgment, none so present, none so

powerful, none so apposite as mirth, music and merry company.

During recent years the influence of music in disease has been the

subject of renewed attention. In London Canon Harford, an enthusiastic

believer in the efficacy of this method of treatment, organized bands of

musicians, under the auspices of the Order of Saint Cecilia, who visited

certain hospitals, where permission had been given, and there exercised

their art with results highly encouraging and beneficial.

And in Boston Dr. John Dixwell has for many years been active in

providing music for hospital patients. His admirable enterprise has been

successful, and has received the endorsement of the medical fraternity.

A wise discrimination is essential in the selection of music especially

adapted to benefit any particular class of cases.

The National Society of Musical Therapeutics was founded in the city of

New York, by Miss Eva Augusta Vescelius, in the year 1903, with the

object of encouraging the study of music in relation to life and health;

and also for the promotion of its use as a curative agent in hospitals,

asylums, and prisons. The therapeutic use of music is believed to have

passed the experimental stage. It is now admitted, says Miss Vescelius,

that music can be so employed as to exercise a distinct psychological

influence upon the mind, nerve-centres and circulatory system; and may

serve as an efficient remedy for many ills to which the flesh is said to

be heir. The selection of music in hospitals and asylums needs

thoughtful consideration, for there we meet with all kinds of discord.

An emotional song, for example, which would give pleasure to one, might

sadden another, and a patient suffering from nostalgia would not be

benefited by a melody suggesting a home-picture.

Will the trained nurse of the future have to include voice culture in

her training before she is declared competent to minister to the wants

of the sick?

This question is raised by Dr. George M. Stratton, professor of

experimental psychology in Johns Hopkins University. In an address on

"The Nature and Training of the Emotions," delivered before more than a

hundred nurses of the hospitals of Baltimore, he made the broad

statement that music would be a vital factor in treating the sick in the


Dr. Stratton did not insist that every nurse of the future must be a

Patti, a Melba, or a Nordica; but he held that in the future a young

woman who devotes her life to nursing the sick should be able to sing to

the patient under her care.

The mental effect of music is generally recognized as beneficial, in

that it lifts the entire being into a higher state. That this effect is

communicated to the body, is admitted, but the extent of physical

benefit has not been sufficiently investigated either by musicians or by

scientists. In the application of music for the treatment of disease, it

should be remembered that the seat of many disorders is primarily in the

mind, and that therefore the mental condition must be radically changed

before a cure is possible. "In listening to music, the mind absorbs

those tones which have become silenced in itself, and in the body as a

necessary consequence; just as the stomach assimilates those

food-elements which are required to repair the waste of the system. Thus

our music-food is selected and distributed where it is most needed, and

this natural selection of musical vibrations acts specifically upon

those parts of the body which are out of harmony. A concert programme is

a menu for the multitude. We hear all the music printed on it, but

digest very little of it. Some kinds of music thus heard, must

inevitably be wasted on the listener, or cause a musical


The English clergyman and writer, Hugh Reginald Haweis, extols music as

a healthy outlet for emotion, and as especially adapted for young

ladies. Joy flows naturally into ringing harmonies, says he, while music

has the subtle power to soften melancholy, by presenting it with its

fine emotional counterpart.

A good play on the piano has not unfrequently taken the place of a good

cry upstairs, and a cloud of ill-temper has often been dispersed by a

timely practice. One of Schubert's friends used to say that, although

very cross before sitting down to his piano, a long scramble-duet

through a symphony or through one of his own delicious and erratic

pianoforte duets, always restored him to good humor.

For many years the subject of musico-therapy has been discussed

editorially in the columns of the "London Lancet." We give some

statements emanating from this authority.

Music influences both brain and heart through the spinal cord, probably

on account of its vibratory or wave motion, which stimulates the

nerve-centres. . . .

It acts as a refreshing mental stimulant and restorative. Therefore it

braces depressed nervous tone and indirectly through the nervous

system reaches the tissues. It is of most use in depressed mental

conditions. . . . The value of music as a therapeutic agent cannot yet

be precisely stated, but it is no quack's nostrum. It is an intangible,

but effective aid of medicine.

It seems strange that the healing influence of music has not been more

thoroughly studied from a psychological standpoint, and utilized, when

one is mindful of the great store of evidence, gathered for centuries,

of the marked power of this agent upon the lower animals, and of its

worth as a mental, and therefore as a physical tonic and stimulant, for

human beings. A chief reason for this neglect has been ascribed to the

materialistic views which have prevailed in therapeutics.

It was formerly believed quite generally, in Italy and elsewhere, that

music was the only efficient cure for the effects of the bite of the

tarantula, a species of large spider, so called from the city of

Taranto. These effects consisted of a feigned or imaginary disease known

as tarantism, which was prevalent in Apulia and other portions of

southern Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tarantism

was an epidemic nervous affection characterized by involuntary dancing,

gesticulations, contortions and cries. In spite, however, of all that

has been written on this subject by physicians and historians, it

appears to be a fact that the bite of the tarantula is not more venomous

than that of other large spiders. Indeed, Dr. H. Chomet, who diligently

investigated the matter, never succeeded in finding a case of tarantism,

nor was he able even to obtain a glimpse of one of these insects.

It is certain, however, that tarantism was very prevalent in earlier

times. J. F. C. Hecker, M.D., in his "Epidemics of the Middle Ages,"

stated that the music of the flute, cithern or other instrument alone

afforded relief to patients affected with this disease. So common was

it, that the cities and villages of Apulia resounded with the beneficent

strains of fifes, clarinets and drums. And the superstition was general

that by means of music and dancing, the poison of the tarantula was

distributed over the whole body, and was then eliminated through the

pores of the skin.

The bite of the star-lizard, Stellio vulgaris, of Southern Europe, was

also popularly believed to be poisonous.

According to Perotti (1430-1480), persons who had been bitten by this

reptile fell into a state of melancholia and stupefaction. While in this

condition they were very susceptible to the influence of music. At the

very first tone of a favorite melody, they sprang up, shouting for joy,

and danced without intermission until they sank to the ground,


Frequent allusions to the remarkable therapeutic power of music, and

especially to its specific anti-toxic virtues, are to be found in the

works of many writers. Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), in "Arcadia," book

1, said: "This word did not less pierce poor Pyrocles, than the right

tune of music toucheth him that is sick of the tarantula." And Jonathan

Swift (1667-1745), in "The Tale of a Tub," has this passage: "He was

troubled with a disease, reversed to that called the stinging of the

tarantula, and would run dog-mad at the noise of music, especially a

pair of bag-pipes." Again: "This Malady has been removed, like the

Biting of a Tarantula, with the sound of a musical instrument."

Many physicians and historians have written on this subject, and with

singular unanimity have endorsed music as a curative agent for


Notable among these were Alexander ab Alexandro, a prominent Neapolitan

civilian, who flourished toward the close of the fifteenth century, and

Athanasius Kircher, a famous German Jesuit, in a treatise entitled "Ars

Magnetica de Tarantismo" (Rome, 1654). Dr. Richard Mead, in an essay on

the tarantula, published in 1702, wrote that this insect was wont to

creep about in the Italian corn-fields during the summer months, and at

that season its bite was especially venomous. Music was the sole remedy

employed, and none other was needed. Among other authorities may be

mentioned: Dr. Pierre Jean Burette (1665-1747), "Dialogue sur la

musique"; Dr. Giorgio Baglivi, "De Anatomia, Morsu et Effectibus

Tarantulae Dissertatio" (1695); and Dr. Theodore Craanen, a Dutch

physician, "Tractatus physico-medicus De Tarantula" (Naples, 1722).

Worthy of note also is an elaborate dissertation, "System einer

Medizinischen Musik" (Bonn, 1835), by Dr. Peter Joseph Schneider,

wherein the author devotes several pages to this interesting theme.

Dr. Mead, above mentioned, gave a curious description of the symptoms

of tarantism. "While the patients are dancing," said he, "they lose in a

manner the use of all their senses, like so many drunkards, and indulge

in many ridiculous and foolish antics. They talk and act rudely, and

take great pleasure in playing with vine-leaves, naked swords, red

cloths, and the like. They have a particular aversion for anything of a

black color, so that if a bystander happens to appear in apparel of that

hue, he must immediately withdraw; otherwise the patients relapse into

their symptoms with as much violence as ever."