Music has been used as a healing force for centuries. Music therapy goes back to biblical times, when David played the harp to rid King Saul of a bad spirit. As early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates, Greek father of medicine, played music for his mental patients. Aristotle described music as a force that purified the emotions. In the thirteenth century, Arab hospitals contained music-rooms for the benefit of the patients.In the United States, Native American medicine men often employed chants and dances as a method of healing patients.Musictherapy as we know it began in the aftermath of World Wars I and II. Musicians would travel to hospitals, particularly in the United Kingdom, and play music for soldiers suffering from war-related emotional and physical trauma.
History tells us of the value music has as a therapeutic tool. From the dawn of civilization music was used to heal. In ancient Greece, Apollo was both the god of music and medicine. Ancient Grecians said, “Music is an art imbued with power to penetrate into the very depth of the soul.” These beliefs were shared through their Doctrine of Ethos. In the mystery schools of Egypt and Greece, healing and sound were considered a highly developed sacred science. In ancient Egypt, the professions of priesthood, musicians and physicians were combined. Around 400BCE, Plato shared this profound belief, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just, and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate and eternal form.”
In the Bible we read about how Saul was healed by the harp of David. Saul suffered from what we now call major depression. In the middle ages Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholia clearly described the healing powers of music. Burton was a minister and suffered from episodes of major depression. Novalis, pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr (Baron) von Hardenberg (1772-1801), was a romantic poet whose fiancée died in 1797 of tuberculosis, which later claimed his life in 1801. In his writing entitled The Encyclopedia, he wrote this about music’s role in wellness. “Each illness has a musical solution. The shorter and more complete the solution, the greater the musical talent of the physician.”
Around the time of Novalis, healing and music diverged into the disciplines of arts, and science or medicine. The therapeutic role of music was eclipsed by its role as entertainment. The sciences became a rational, logical, temporal, intellectual way of defining the mysteries of the universe. Scientists have searched for explanations of illness by studying its parts rather than looking at the total picture. We must not discount, however, the life-saving discoveries of scientists such as Alexander Fleming, with his discovery of penicillin, as well as other masters of the scientific world who brought us many other life-saving remedies.