Therapeutic music: Edith Moore-Hubert on the healing properties of classical music

September 03, 2014
Photo by Melvin E via Flickr

With a master's degree in piano performance from Manhattan School of Music, Edith Moore-Hubert has performed in academic, liturgical, medical, and concert settings for almost 30 years. In 2010, she released a solo CD, Music to Calm Your Soul. She describes her music as therapeutic, and I asked her to share some insight into the healing potential of classical music.

Can you explain the role you've had in therapeutic settings?

Unlike music therapy, therapeutic music does not involve medical diagnosis, assessment, or treatment. Where art and music therapy employ professional therapists to treat patients, therapeutic arts employ professional artists to facilitate the patient's own artistic experience. Patients can be engaged with art outside the self — a performance or art exhibit — or within the self, within the creative process. Engaging with the arts and creativity can provide both a distraction from difficult circumstances and a connection to self and inner strength.

What is it about classical music that speaks to you as an artist and a healer?

I hear people say that classical music is a dying art, but my experience has been just the opposite. I've seen music that is hundreds of years old have a profound effect on listeners. The music was written with care and attention to communicate something of beauty. Playing with the intent to communicate generously always speaks to others, and that kind of connection is not just relevant, but vital.

On Bach's 300th birthday I heard Rosalyn Turek play the Goldberg Variations at Carnegie Hall. But I also remember walking afterwards and hearing someone playing Bach outside on a keyboard. The music was echoing down the canyon of Park Avenue and completely took my breath away. Both performances that evening were memorable, and both kinds are essential for our society's health.

How did you become involved with therapeutic music?

My first job was as coordinator for the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine in 2004, when the Mayo Clinic expanded this program to include the Jacksonville campus. During that time I began working with an organization called Body and Soul, which sends professional musicians to perform at the bedside of hospitalized patients. I also met Jill Sonke from the University of Florida, one of the pioneers in the field of arts in medicine, and later worked as an artist-in-residence at UF's hospital in Jacksonville.  

Who are some of your musical influences? Which composers and genres do you prefer to play?

We probably don't have enough time to talk about all my influences, but certainly at the top of the list are the late Hugh Thomas, the late Herbert Stessin, and Delores Hodgens Howard: all artists, performers, incredible musicians, and dedicated educators who inspire me still.

My favorite composers and genres?

Bach. Anything and everything 18th century and earlier. And Bach.

How did you determine the selections for Music to Calm Your Soul?

For the CD I chose pieces that always got a positive response from patients no matter the setting or their age or background. They are not too long, not overpowering, contemplative in nature, and I think they are little masterpieces.

Is there an experience that encapsulates your work as a therapeutic musician?

I think of two. One took place in the psychiatric unit of a large downtown hospital. One of the patients was talking about a crime he'd witnessed where someone was shot in the face. The ensuing conversation conjured up some pretty violent images and everyone was talking pretty loudly.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I started playing. Someone said, "That's Mozart!" "No, it's Beethoven!" No one talked about the crime anymore. The patients worked on an art project while I played Bach, Beethoven, Chopin. Everyone was absorbed in their work. After a while I heard more comments: "It feels like a library." "It feels like Christmas."

In 2010, another professional musician and I began a monthly series of combined art and music programs for adult residents of a downtown homeless center. We weren't sure how it would go over, but every visit has been heart-touching. For about two hours people sit quietly and draw, paint, make greeting cards or bracelets — all while listening to live music.

"I haven't done anything like this since I was in high school," said one older gentleman. "When will you be back? Can you come next week?" "I really needed this, thank you."

Recently we've taken a hiatus to reorganize and hopefully involve more artists and musicians. It would be great to offer a weekly program.

Emily Michael is a writer, musician, and English instructor living in Jacksonville, Florida. When she's not involved in academic pursuits, she works with blind and visually impaired people and their families, teaching self-advocacy and independent living skills.

Interested in writing about classical music for Classical MPR? Have a story about classical music to share? We want to hear from you!