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Vera Brandes: Music and the Brain

Vera Brandes: Music and the Brain
Vera Brandes talking “music in medicine and therapy” at Mozart & Science 2010

civilization diseases are basically disorders that have something to do with very stressful lifestyles and they manifest in substantial, physical disorders. But what medicine can do to ameliorate the symptoms of these disorders is keeping the symptoms at bay chemically with appropriate medication. What of course, would be much more preferable, is to look at the cause of these disorders and to see how we can get people back into a healthy lifestyle and avoid them getting it in the first place or once they have it, get back into being physically and psychologically in a state where they can help themselves without being on medication for the rest of their life.

SM: And how does music fit in with that?

VB: I think that music is the easiest and the most effective way of getting the body back into a normal functioning once it’s out of that, if it’s done right. But just if you see at the rates of disease of people depending on their profession, the healthiest people on this planet are singers and that is because breathing is so essential. I mean, that is the oxygen that our body needs and the stressful life that we have primarily living in big cities, we don’t get the amount of oxygen that we should have. But breathing deeply and relaxed and profoundly, I should say, is something that occurs naturally when you know how to sing. So, I think that singing with children in school is the best prevention that we could do.

SM: In reading some of the things you’ve written, I know that you were hoping to help bring your ideas forward by giving some proof of how the methodologies and the modalities work. So, tell me a little bit about the research that a layperson would understand how you’re looking into the way music works and making sure that you can describe this in a replicable way.

VB: We do two different things in our research. First of all, we try to understand what the exact mechanisms of music are. How does it have to be shaped and how does it have to be applied to get to the results that we like to see in treating certain disorders. On the other hand, what we do is, we do clinical studies that are designed just as if we were testing a conventional medical method. And that is the only way that we can convince doctors to be prescribing music instead of medicine. And of course, doctors have to know about all of the possibilities and they have to know that they can trust the formulas, the auditory stimulant formulas that we are developing. So, this is why this clinical research is so crucially important. And I’m very proud to say that a lot of conventional medical societies have now started to look at this and to take it really serious and that’s based on the fabulous research that I was able to conduct due to the help of incredibly qualified scientists that I have been able to bring on board to conduct these studies.

SM: Now, the music that you prescribe is not music that you use that’s been composed already, but music that is specifically composed for your use.

VB: Mm-hmm.

SM: Can you tell be a little bit about it in terms of what does it sound like? What’s the instrumentation? What’s the tone of it or is it all over the place?

VB: We very soon learned in our research, that we had to use music that nobody knew before. When we listen to a piece of music our brain and also I think our body, remembers that moment and associates all of the circumstances of the moment when we listen to a piece of music for the very first time. And that’s so deeply in our memory that we cannot separate the memory from the music. So, if we’re trying to address an issue like depression, which is of course, associated with hopelessness and the negative expectations of what comes next, then introducing music that you hadn’t heard before, is a very special moment. And it can be associated with all of what you have lost primarily with the hope of things to change for the better. Also, the music has to be structured in a way that it addresses all of the factors that are involved in depression. Depression is an extraordinary complex disorder and there are so many different types of


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