Bach to health: Orchestra to provide musical therapy at Portland hospital

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PORTLAND — Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, the saying goes. And perhaps sore backs and carpal tunnel syndrome, too.

Patients and employees at New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland may soon find out, thanks to a $15,000 grant awarded to the Portland Symphony Orchestra by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

The grant is one of just 22 given by the foundation this fall, totaling $425,000 in awards to orchestras throughout the country. More than 200 orchestras applied for the grants.

The PSO grant will fund a “music wellness” program intended to reduce stress levels for hospital patients and employees.

Working with NERHP staff, small groups of orchestra musicians will conduct live, specially designed performances in the hospital. The musicians also will help lead a stress-reduction program for hospital employees that combines live classical music with muscle-relaxation and breathing exercises.

The PSO is still tuning plans for the program, but expects to start the hospital performances next spring. About 1,000 patients will benefit from the music therapy over the coming year, and more than 100 employees will probably participate in the stress-reduction sessions, NERHP Director of Marketing Scott Peterson said.

“This grant will enable our symphony to bring the healing benefits of music to people in our community,” PSO Executive Director Lisa Dixon said. “The music and wellness program is aligned with our organization’s ongoing efforts to enrich the lives of our community members through music.”

Jeanine Chesley, NERHP chief executive officer, said “Music and wellness programs benefit staff by lowering their stress levels and increasing their job satisfaction. When employees are feeling more relaxed and happy in their workplace, it translates to our patients and their experience benefits.

“Live music, in particular, benefits patients by raising mood and well-being. It helps them be more active in their rehabilitation program and gives them another tool for success in their journey to recovery.”

The idea for the program stemmed from occasional concerts PSO musicians have volunteered to play at local hospitals. But the orchestra began looking at the therapeutic benefits of the performances thanks to Lynn Hannings, a bassist who has been playing with the PSO for 44 years.

Hannings became interested in physical rehabilitation after learning how to modify violin bows for musicians with muscle problems and other impairments. She brought the idea to the orchestra, which was looking for a way to become more active in the community.

“We wanted to be out there, playing in the community, not just in the Merrill Auditorium,” she said.

Now she is working with PSO staff to plan the first performances at NEHRP. Classical music has repetitive patterns than the brain finds calming, and live classical music adds inaudible “overtones” that enhance the effect, according to Hannings.

“In fact the notes we can’t hear, the ones that aren’t included in a recording, are the ones that have the most benefit, ” she said.

The PSO hasn’t picked out specific composers or passages of music for the program, but Hannings said Mozart and Bach might be on the program.

“The music has to have a nice flow,” she said. “A little ‘adagio,’ then something ‘moderato’ … most of all, there has to be a good heart to it.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.