Are Missourians Singing Their Way to Health and Well-being?

Are Missourians Singing Their Way to Health and Well-Being?


The Missouri legislature is discussing a bill (HCR 33) designed to document that music therapy offers health benefits. I became interested when I noted that Dr. Clint McCann used as an example, “when the Psalms are sung, chanted, or read the resulting effect opens the heart to receive what the singer, cantor, or reader most needs – reducing stress, regaining health, or dealing with grief from loss of a loved one.” Read more about this subject in a guest blog written by David Corbitt, Committee on Publication for Missouri.

Some may be familiar with the phrase “music has charms to soothe the savage breast.” Or its misreported common version that “music has charms to soothe the savage beast.” I would venture that most of us have read the Bible story of a young boy named David playing his harp for King Saul who, most likely, was battling bouts of depression and possibly mental illness.  Just as the savage breast needs consoling and the beast taming, the effects of music has been portrayed throughout history as bringing comfort and calm. The same can be seen in the stories of King Saul.  These are illustrations of music therapy in action.

Is it possible that music could actually reduce physical pain?  How about relieving mental suffering while under cancer treatment?  Can music therapy relieve stress in our busy lives?

Quantitative and qualitative evidence is beginning to point to “yes.”

I remember back in my teenage years during the 1960s and 70s how I would hang out in my room with the latest rock or soul hit blaring.  My mom would bang on the door, yelling at me to “turn down that God-awful noise.”  To me the songs were truly therapeutic and a stress reliever, while to my mom they definitely had a different effect.  Nonetheless, effects on both of us were evident.

I admit that I am a bit unique when it comes to music.  I have not met a music genre that I did not like.  This can annoy my daughters as I sing along with their music and then change the station to a classical music station followed by a religious music station, followed by jazz, etc.

Enjoying music like I do is one thing, using it formally as therapy is quite another. So what is some of the new evidence from health professionals that music can be a useful tool in the implementation of care for our physical, mental and psychological needs?

A Canadian study led by Sandi Curtis, a music therapy professor at the Concordia University Department of Creative Arts Therapies, found that a project involving musicians from a professional symphony orchestra resulted in a wide range of benefits for hospital patients.

Australian singer Olivia Newton-John knows better than most how music can benefit wellbeing. “Writing and listening to music is very healing for me,” she explains. “I wrote one album, Gaia, when I had breast cancer and the music was a way for me to heal.” Her recent album Grace and Gratitude Renewed was created to promote “healing, relaxation and meditation”. Newton-John is also on the cusp of opening a Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, and hopes music therapy will play a role alongside yoga, massage and art therapy.

Recently I heard on NPR (National Public Radio) about a legislative bill (HCR 33) in Missouri being discussed this session. The bill is designed to document that music therapy offers health benefits and should be considered an important healthcare service for Missourians. It begins by defining music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

It goes on to define the scope of music therapy:

WHEREAS, music therapy is a health field that offers benefits across all developmental domains and supports patients of all ages and ability levels, including but not limited to, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly; and

WHEREAS, research has shown that music therapy can help Alzheimer’s patients regain cognitive function, premature infants gain weight, autistic children communicate, stroke patients regain speech and mobility, dental, surgical, and orthopedic patients control chronic pain, and psychiatric patients manage anxiety and depression; and

WHEREAS, research has shown music therapy to be a cost-effective service by reducing medication costs, addressing multiple domains in one session, and increasing medical staff efficiency”

The bill also states that more than 28,000 Missourians receive music therapy every year administered by 135 board-certified music therapists. The resolution closes by reiterating, “music therapy is a valid and important health care service for Missourians.”

While taking a seminary class from Dr. Clint McCann at Eden Seminary I began to better understand the power of music when it is also combined with and found in hymns or prayers. McCann used the Book of Psalms as an example. He said, “when the Psalms are sung, chanted, or read the resulting effect opens the heart to receive what the singer, cantor, or reader most needs — reducing stress, regaining health, or dealing with grief from loss of a loved one.” More of Dr. McCann’s commentary on the book of Psalms can be found in The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV.

For me, music of all kinds and from many countries around the world can be therapeutic, calming, stimulating, and even healing. When I feel out of sorts music often brings me back to a sense of balance and harmony. I thought I was alone – or at least in the minority of opinion – until I began researching this idea of music as physical, mental, and spiritual therapy.  Dedicated and deliberate research in this field dates back for decades. I had heard somewhere, some time ago that music as therapy was being given consideration but was surprised at the depth, breadth and length of research in this field.

Have you been touched or re-centered by listening to a song?  Have you experienced the uplifting effects of music? Missourians who are seeking improved health may soon have one more recognized treatment option to assist them.

Link to David Corbitt’s blog

About the author

Guest We are pleased to present Notes from the Field authors, who are assistant committees and church members in the Southern California region; and Notes from The Mother Church authors, who are Committees from the United States and around the world, as well as the Federal Committee on Publication office.


  1. Mary Lou MacKenzie says

    As one who loves opera and classical music, I can agree heartily. Music has a way of lifting us into another realm, and aren’t we glad.

  2. says

    Thank you David, for this amazing report on music and its healing powers; something I have always experienced in my own life. It’s just so great to see the research that has been done, and the state of Missouri certainly is a thought-leader in this field. I couldn’t wait to finish this blog to send off emails to others who will love it as I do!

  3. Pamela says

    Thanks David, I whole heartedly agree that music can be a healing agent especially with stress and or disease. Like you, I have not found a genre of music that I didn’t like. My brother-in-law and I attend a Jazz festival every year on Thanksgiving weekend. It lasts for 4 days but we only go one day, all day, from 9am to midnight or when they close. It is so much fun. We also attend the Opera together. My kids and grandkids are surprised also when I start singing their favorite song whether country or rock and roll. I also love the hymns in our church hymnal they always add to my sense of peace.

    Thanks again for this wonderful report on how music is being considered for therapy in health care. This is an important change from the norm and we need all the alternatives in health care we can get. Health care is not just a “one size fits all.”

  4. Anne Hughes says

    I sing hymns the day long and always sing up at church, which can be embarrassing when I belt out words from the wrong verse. Hymns have always comforted me in difficult times, and I will pick up a “hum” from a tune on the radio to accompany whatever needs to be done. I was delighted to find out that my son sings the songs I sang to him to his little son. All through school at every level, singing or instrumental music sweetened my days. I never thought of it as therapeutic, serving to preserve health, but looking back, I know that music has blessed me.

  5. Anne says

    The discovery made centuries ago that music uplifts and heals, as in the case of David and King Saul, is proof enough for me.

    I’m delighted to learn that Missourians are considering a bill that documents the health care benefits of music. Maybe this will spread to other states.

    The lyrical tone of the psalms has brought great comfort and healing to me over the years. I can only imagine what it was like to hear David play them on his lyre. The atmosphere undoubtedly would have been filled with rest, refreshment, and peace. Surely anyone listening would know immediately that the Lord was his shepherd.

    I love the inspiration in this blog. Thank you.

  6. Sue says

    I agree with the several comments above. Music has always soothed me, inspired me and aiding healing. The hymns and the words are a constant help to me. The words are always healing & the music fills my thought and soul with Soul-filled ideas. Thank you for verifying how important music is to all of us. Every culture has music which meets this needs of it people. God’s goodness has infinite expression in music.