Tag Archives: Children’s Choirs

Music Therapy and Child Trauma

Vienna Boys ChoirWant to heal developmental trauma in kids?  Create children’s choirs, I wrote last week.   Dr. Bruce Perry says “patterned, repetitive, rhythmic regulation” is what regulates the brain stem, and when it’s not regulated, we can’t truly reach the rest of a child’s brain.

The brain science studies have been done on yoga, meditation, EMDR and so on — not on Bach.  But is that only because those scientists were never given the chance to sing Bach?  Chalk it up to the decline of education.  What if Bessel van der Kolk had sung in the Vienna Boys’ Choir?  (Ok, so he’s from Holland…)  Or haven’t I seen the brain science studies on choirs?  Please leave me a comment!

Plus: there’s a lot of science that shows music helps shape babies in the womb — and keeps them alive when they need it.  Science shows this “medical music therapy” helps people of all ages.  Put this with the fact that children’s choirs have been a keystone of civilization since at least 700BC  [FNO] and we start to see a pattern.

The Music in Your Cells

What we do know is that everybody loves music because every body loves music.  Music is literally built into the human cells, especially brain cells from the hour of conception.  Our bodies physically need it. Infants and children know that instinctively.  “The first music encoded deep within your memory are the earliest vibrations that made you – the rhythms and tempos of your first cells,” writes Galina Mindlin, MD, Columbia University Professor of Psychiatry. [FN1]

“As your cells began to develop with the comforting rhythms of your mother’s heartbeat and the whooshing low frequency sounds vibrating through her placenta and your umbilical cord, these first musical scores began entrainment (two or more rhythms synchronizing into one) in your brain and orchestrating the essence of music for your entire being.  So from your first spark of life, your brain was already establishing the relationship for how music affects you today…

“Newborns can almost immediately show some memory of sounds they encountered in the womb… Before any of us is capable of speaking words, we can recognize changes in notes and rhythmic patterns… Throughout all this development, lyrical and comforting ‘motherese,’ the singsong way in which parents speak to their children, plays a significant role in instilling feelings of calm, safety, and love…

“By only their 14th week, children can distinguish their mother’s footsteps from anyone else’s, and discriminate between their mother’s voice and a stranger’s… At the beach on any given day, we can see a man or woman lying in the sand… listening to the whoosh of waves and the easy hush of wind, smiling like a baby…”

“Music in its most primodial form links our brain to vibrations we experienced as babies that have both long- and short-term effect on our brains’ circuitry.  The core characteristics of music – rhythm, harmony, synchrony, resonance, and dissonance – can affect frequencies in our brain and extend their influence on our hormones, neurotransmitters, and essential enzymes, and can ultimately affect our focus, feelings, moods, motivation” and more. [FN2]

Music Therapy Saves Preemies

Joanne Loewy Sings to BabyDr. Joanne Loewy, Director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital, saves lives of premature babies (and other patients) using music to replicate the auditory environment in the womb. I haven’t asked Dr. Loewy about choirs, but to me this work says worlds about what singing can do to regulate the physiology and thus the brains of kids.   Dr. Loewy sings to a newborn, above. [FN 3]

I first met Dr. Loewy by email shortly after the Beth Israel team she heads published a major study on medical music therapy for preemies  on  April 15, 2013.  First off, I was blown away to learn there exists a Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine  at the top hospital in New York City.  It’s official: music is essential to humans!  [FN4]

I was also delighted when she invited me to see her for music therapy to heal my pre-concious anxieties from being an unwanted pregnancy.  Gosh, she trains music therapists worldwide and teaches  at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It was too long a commute from California.  But I started music therapy anyway and it sure works for me.

“By re-creating a womb-like environment through sound and music, music therapy has been shown to deepen infant sleep-state, support infant self-regulation, assist in the stabilization of breathing and heart rates, enhance parent/infant bonding, sooth irritability, re-enforce feeding/sucking rhythms and weight gain, and promote a sense of safety during painful procedures” faced by many preemies,” she wrote.

“Historically, we thought premature infants were best left alone in a quiet, closed incubator with no stimulation,” she told the press when the study came out. “But more recently, we’re seeing that the right kind of stimulation — particularly live, interactive music — can enhance babies’ neurological function and increase their quiet-alert state. . . . the more we can regulate the sound environment, the better they’re going to fare.”  [FN 5]

Dr. Loewy’s team studied  272 infants in 11 hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). They found that live music matched to babies’ breathing and heart rates enhanced feeding and sleeping patterns. Parent-selected lullabies also seemed to promote bonding between parents and babies, easing the stress of the chaotic NICU environment.

The music also lowered parental stress, the study found — which is key, because anxious, fearful, clueless parents produce developmental trauma in their kids.  Parent-preferred melodies and entrained live rhythm and breath sounds enhanced quiet alert and sleep states, suck response, and oxygen saturation in premature infants and also  significantly reduce fear and anxiety perception in parents, they found.

Over two weeks, the 272 premature babies underwent several sessions of two instruments, singing and no music at all.  The instruments and lullaby singing style were intended to approximate womb sounds, said Dr. Loewy.  Two-tone heartbeat rhythms were played on a “gato box,” a rectangular wooden drum.  [Bruce Perry and Bessel van der Kolk speak  extensively on the primacy of the mother’s heart rate in determining fetal brain development. Dr. van der Kolk strongly recommends heart-rate variability regulating therapies for trauma. -kb]

Whooshing sounds [like those in the womb referenced by Dr. Mindlin and I suspect by numerous researchers] were produced by an “ocean disc,” a cylinder containing shifting metal beads.

For melody, parents were asked for a favorite song.  If it wasn’t a lullaby (one chose “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”; another, “Pick Up the Pieces”), therapists slowed it, changed meters to lullaby-like waltzes and adjusted lyrics.

“Lots of times you see parents bopping the baby up and down on their lap, and there’s no purpose to it,” Dr. Loewy said. “You don’t feel the music intention as much as if you have a song that a parent has chosen.”  If parents did not specify, researchers used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  Tempos were coordinated with babies’ vital signs, indicated not only by monitors but also by baby  eye movements and its chest’s rise and fall.

Researchers found that the heart beat gato box, the whooshing ocean disc and the  singing, all slowed a baby’s heart rate, though singing seemed most effective.  Singing also increased the time babies stayed quietly alert.  Sucking behavior improved most with the gato box. Breathing rate slowed most and sleeping was best with the ocean disc. Babies hearing songs their parents chose had better feeding behavior and gained more calories than those who heard “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But the “Twinkle” babies had slightly more oxygen saturation in their blood.

“Many NICUs are noisy, or people put on random lullabies that are recorded,” Loewy said. “But it’s not just any recorded lullaby, it’s the power of the parent’s voice synchronized therapeutically . . . and the other two sounds can have a therapeutic benefit.”

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Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FNO  Chorus members in Greek theater were trained in childhood from around 700 BC.  Greek theater always included a chorus, whose members also danced and spoke, but also sang: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_chorus   Both boys and girls were trained to sing: http://www.amazon.com/Choruses-Young-Women-Ancient-Greece/dp/0742515249
Greece and Rome founded many children’s singing schools: http://www.boychoirs.org/library/history/hist014.html
The Schola Cantorum in Rome was formed in the seventh century to train boys in reading and singing.

FN1  Galina Mindlin, M.D., Ph.D is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Supervising Attending Physician at the Department of Psychiatry in St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center.  She is Board Certified in psychiatry and neurology.  See also: www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/what-healthy-brains-sound-like-how-brain-music-therapy-is-helping-first-responders/

FN2  Mindlin, Galina MD, PhD, “Your Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness,”  Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, IL, 2012

FN3  Joanne V. Loewy, DA, LCAT, MT-BC,  is Director,
Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine,
Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY  Websites:
http://www.musicandmedicine.org/ and http://www.facebook.com/ArmstrongMusicandMedicine
She is also Co-Editor-in-Chief, “Music and Medicine” www.sagepub.com/journals/Journal201929

FN4  “The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants,” Joanne Loewy,  Kristen Stewart, Ann-Marie Dassler,  Aimee Telsey,  Peter Homel
Online April 15, 2013; hard copy in May 2013 Pediatrics.
Abstract: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/04/10/peds.2012-1367.abstract
Full Text in PDF: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/5/902.full.pdf+html
SUMMARY:
What’s Known on This Subject:
Recorded music, parent voices, and sung lullabies have been shown to increase oxygen saturation, nonnutritive sucking, and weight gain in premature infants.
What This Study Adds:
Parent-preferred melodies and entrained live rhythm and breath sounds can enhance quiet alert and sleep states, suck response, and oxygen saturation in premature infants and significantly reduce fear and anxiety perception in parents.

FN5  Pam Belluck, “Live Music’s Charms, Soothing Premature Hearts – Preemies and Sound,” New York Times, April 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/health/live-music-soothes-premature-babies-a-new-study-finds.html?_r=0
Maureen Salamon,  “Lullabies Soothe Preemies, Parents Alike,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15, 2013 [webpage removed]

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Bruce Perry and Children’s Choirs

Cantoria1 Youths larger della_robbia_02I’ve reported Dr. Bruce Perry’s in Washington May 4 to talk on healing trauma at the National Council.

What’s that got to do with this sculpture of children singing in the Cathedral of Florence in 1436 to kick off the Renaissance?  Everything!

Dr. Perry says it’s brain science to regulate the brain stem with “patterned, repetitive, rhythmic regulation,” featuring yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and singing, principles so fundamental they go back to the dawn of man. [FN1]

Who can imagine life without singing?  In every culture, long before writing, the only way to pass down an idea was to sing it. Aryans have sung Vedas since 5,000 BC or before. Hebrews sang Psalms as far back as 2,500 BC, long before they were written down ca. 1400 BC. [FN2  ]

Want to regulate kids? Teach them to sing! Gathering children to sing in choirs was the core of the Greek educational system since at least 700 BC, and there were choir schools for kids in Europe at least since the 900s AD. [FN3]  Singing in choirs brings kids into organized personal connection with other living, regularly-breathing human beings.  Being connected and in harmony with other humans is what best regulates human beings – today brain scientists call it “limbic resonance.” [FN4]

Amira Willighagen 1Singing gives kids a voice!  Children have been known to sing gloriously even today. Watch 9-year old Amira Willighagen sing in Amsterdam last year.

She did it without any training.  Amira just went on the internet looking for songs, found this Italian aria, and learned it by imitating.  Clearly she found a terrific adult soprano – we can hear the inflections of a highly-experienced adult in Amira’s voice. [FN5]

St Thomas Choir1AOr take the St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig. When J.S. Bach became music director in 1723, the choir school was already 511 years old. Click here for the boys singing a Bach “Gloria.”    [FN6]


Born to Sing

Cantoria2 Boys10-12 & Teens della_robbia22If a child can speak, he can sing; most kids can sing before they can speak. Training children to sing as young as possible is a principle of civilization. Electronic culture has forgotten it to our peril as our kids whack out on machine-made noise. We need a revolutionary approach as old as the hills.  We need children’s choirs on a mass scale.

These children singing on the “Cantoria” by Lucca della Robbia, sculpted 1431-36, were placed in the Cathedral as public ads, to urge parents to bring in their kids for training. This is the level of culture and education which later produced Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven. Was their genius just magic?  Why don’t we have composers today, who produce music on such a scale (and they did it all without electronic equipment) ?

Answer: Bach & co. were trained as children to sing harmonic, complex polyphony (4-6 different musical lines at once).  So complex, harmonic music was what they heard in their heads as little kids. They were bilingual; music was their second mother tongue.  To them, it was simple: as soon as they could hold a pen, they would just start to write down their musical ideas. That tradition continued in Europe until the end of the 19th Century.

And there’s another reason everybody loves music: it’s because every body loves music. Music is literally built into kids’ bodies from the hour of conception.  Our bodies physically need it. And kids know that instinctively, from infancy.

“The first music encoded deep within your memory are the earliest vibrations that made you – the rhythms and tempos of your first cells,” writes Galina Mindlin, MD and music therapist.

“As your cells began to develop with the rhythms of your mother’s heartbeat and the whooshing sounds vibrating through her placenta and your umbilical cord, these first musical scores began entraining (two or more rhythms synchronizing into one) in your brain… your brain was already establishing the relationship for how music affects you today…   Newborns can almost immediately show some memory of sounds they encountered in the womb… Before any of us is capable of speaking words, we can recognize changes in notes and rhythmic patterns…” [FN7]

The Mother of All  Trauma

Cantoria3 Boys 10-11 playing stringsWhat about trauma healing?  Consider this: from 1348-1350, the Black Death, the mother of all trauma, killed half the population of Asia and Europe. In Italy, Florence’s population was reduced from 120,000 in 1338 to 50,000 in 1351. Many thought civilization was finished. [FN8]

Then a handful of intellectuals devised the idea of a re-birth or “Renaissance,” a project to unite a new economics to feed the population, with the science, philosophy, and arts to uplift them.  Florence had a famous problem whose solution could inspire people with hope. At the city’s center lay the massive Cathedral of Florence, begun 1296 — but no one had any idea how a dome could be built large enough to cover such a space without collapsing. Work was also delayed by waves of plague for decades. The roof lay open for over a century as people prayed in the rain.

During 1402–1404, Filippo Brunelleschi and his friend Donatello visited Rome to study the ancient ruins and the Pantheon on which the Cathedral was modeled. They returned to build the first “classical” buildings in Florence. In 1420, Florentine banker Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) bankrolled Brunelleschi to work  16 years to complete the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame. [FN9]

What did they do in that Cathedral? They brought in the children of the city and taught them to sing, to show there was hope for the future, that  the children could be saved from the jaws of death. These sculptures just above show that by the age of 9-11, kids were singing (and playing) complex four and six part polyphony.

Note the rounded mouths in all the sculptures (and in the St. Thomas boys). Vocal scholars can tell you what note they’re singing by how large of an egg-shaped mouth they’re making.

The dome was ready in time for the Council of Florence which opened in the Cathedral on March 25, 1436, the date often cited as the start of the Renaissance. Inside were featured these sculptures of children singing in the choir loft by Lucca della Robbia.  Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay and many of his colleagues were brought to Italy to teach advanced musical composition.  Dufay’s advanced motet Nuper rosarum flores was composed for the 1436 opening and sung from della Robbia’s choir loft by kids like these in the sculptures.

Cosimo de’ Medici and his grandson Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492) also backed philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Pico’s 1486 “Oration on the Dignity of Man” stated the Renaissance Idea: each individual human soul is a divine spark of God, not a beast of burden as under feudalism.

Cantoria4 Boys 5-10 Sing-Dance1A webThese sculptures show that in Florence, the Dignity of Man began with the dignity of the children.  These kids have been taught to sing even younger, at 5 to 8 years.  Della Robbia did several sculptures of toddlers singing as well (more than I have space to show!).

Cantoria5 Infant singingEven infants sang, singing with their families perhaps while they learned to speak.This child is not much older than 2.  Kids who started this early acquired the experience it took to produce genius in many fields.

San Diego Trauma-Informed Renaissance?

I’ve seen this kind of singing of fine music in choirs make traumatized children happy.  Musicians who run children’s choirs will tell you that.

San Diego Childrens Choir1 earlyyears_collageThe San Diego Children’s Choir (right), founded 1990, now has 5 branches with  over 250 participants. It also has a neighborhood outreach program that spans many low-income areas full of traumatized children including City Heights and other areas.

City Heights is also where Principal Godwin Higa has been turning Cherokee Point Elementary into an advanced trauma-infomed school since 2008. Three professors at San Diego State and community organizers Dana Brown and Dorothy Zirkle worked with the City Heights community to develop a two-year $684,094 pilot project at Cherokee Point, the Wellness and Restorative Practice Partnership (WRPP), funded by the California Endowment.

I can’t be with Bruce Perry in Washington May 4, but I will be in San Diego May 2, talking to  my friend Dana Brown and other members of the San Diego Trauma-Informed Guide Team (SD-TIGT) about Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk, and the brain science of trauma.  SD-TIGT is leading the way among county health and welfare institutions to implement trauma-prevention and trauma-healing practices in schools, medical, and social facilities.

If Principal Higa and Dana haven’t met the folks at the San Diego Children’s Choir yet, maybe I’ll be able to provoke something.  Even if they’ve met, maybe we can expand their forces. As a result of the economic crisis, San Diego just lost its opera company, the San Diego Opera.  The city must be full of struggling singers, school music teachers and private voice teachers who would jump at the chance to teach every child at Cherokee El to sing Bach.

Next step: find our Cosimo de’ Medici to pay these already financially-pressed musicians and educators, so they can put in the hours necessary every week at Cherokee El. Then stand back.

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Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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Footnotes

FN1  Lucca della Robbia, Cantoria (Choir Loft), shows children singing, dancing,and  making music to “praise the Lord” in the words of Psalm 150. Photos  at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cantoria_di_luca_della_robbia_11.jpg

FN2  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Arctic_Home_in_the_Vedas

FN3  Chorus members in Greek theater were trained in childhood from around 700 BC.  Greek theater always included a chorus, whose members also danced and spoke, but also sang. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_chorus ]  Both boys and girls were trained to sing.  [http://www.amazon.com/Choruses-Young-Women-Ancient-Greece/dp/0742515249 ]  Greece and Rome founded many children’s singing schools [ http://www.boychoirs.org/library/history/hist014.html ] The Schola Cantorum in Rome was formed in the seventh century to train boys in reading and singing.
The Vienna Boys Choir, formalized in a 1498 letter by Maximilian I Habsburg, goes back to the year 957 when Bishop Wolfgang of Regensburg created his cathedral choir [ http://www.boychoirs.org/library/history/hist014.html  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Boys%27_Choir ] The first choir school was founded at  St. Paul’s Cathedral, London in 1127, the second at St. Thomas’ Church, Leipzig in 1212. A boarding school for choristers at the Kreuzkirche in Dresden is mentioned in 1300, a choir known now as the Dresdner Kreuzchor. The Vienna Boys Choir received a solid musical education, many went on to become professional musicians such as Franz Schubert.
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choir ].

FN4  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, New York, 2000.  Lannon interviews : www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

FN5  Amira Willighagen video: http://news.distractify.com/default-category/a-shy-9-year-old-girl-takes-the-stage-these-people-will-never-forget-what-follows/

FN6  St.Thomas Choir video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-apSehviiQ&list=PL517BEEF15EA64268

FN7  Mindlin, Galina, MD, PhD, “Your Playlist Can Change Your Life,” Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, IL, 2012  More here:
www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/what-healthy-brains-sound-like-how-brain-music-therapy-is-helping-first-responders/

FN8  The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350 with 30–60 percent of Europe’s population killed. It reduced world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_of_the_Black_Death

FN9  Walker, Paul Robert, “The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World,” Harper Collins, 2003

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