In the Intensive Care unit, Dr. Erol Can puts a flute to his lips. He is wearing blue hospital scrubs and his stethoscope still hangs around his neck. Propped up in bed and connected to an oxygen tank, a patient listens as the anesthetist plays a makam – a piece in a classic Arabic/Turkish musical style.
A monitor displays his galloping pulse and blood pressure slowing down to a healthier pace. Dr. Can plays on, weaving music and science, body and soul together.
It seems a universal truth that a calm environment with music helps relieve stress. Just like Mozart helps preemies to gain weight. Together with cardiac surgeon Dr. Bingur Sönmezs, Dr. Can is reviving a mode of treatment that goes back at least 900 years.
Three great Turkish doctors, Zekeriya Er-Razi (854-932), Farabi (870-950) and İbn Sina (980-1037), wrote extensively on the benefits of musical therapy, especially for psychological problems. Farabi categorized makams strictly, recommending specific sorts for specific conditions. For example, there are makams that grant feelings of security or courage, help overcome insomnia, and restore the ability to weep or to laugh. According to these ancient laws, each kind of makam should be played at certain times of the day to be effective.
Makam therapy was used by Selçuk and Ottoman doctors well into the 18th century. It is used by shamanistic musicians in Central Asia until the present day, but was neglected in the wake of scientific advances. Can and Sönmez introduced makam music therapy five years ago.
“I learned to play the ney flute in order to play the kind of music that was used in traditional music therapy hundreds of years ago, making use of the psychological and physiological effects of the makam,” Dr. Can told The Guardian.
Dr. Sönmez adds that while music therapy isn’t a substitute for modern medicine, it’s an effective way of relieving stress, anxiety and depression, lowering high blood pressure without drugs.
“There is a different makam for every illness, every health problem . There are makamlar that agitate, and there are makamlar that relax,” Sönmez says.
The doctors hearken back to medieval Arab hospitals, where the rooms were grouped around a central courtyard with a splashing fountain, fragrant plants, and play of sunlight and shade, all calculated to benefit patients with soul-repairing beauty.
Following that philosophy, they plan to install soothing pink lights in the intensive care unit. Anyone who’s had to lie face up in the white glare of hospital lights can appreciate the wisdom in that.
More about music that helps the world:
- Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen releases Earth Day video
- Eco-Friendly RhythManiacs
- Video: Making music from the sun
- Kuwaiti musician Zahed Sultan releases “Re-Use Me”
:: The Guardian
Photo of makam therapy from The Guardian.
Picture of ancient makam therapy from Muslim Heritage.