SXSW Interactive panel pitches music as medicine

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One SXSW interactive panel will discuss bringing music to an unexpected place: hospitals.

The “Music as Medicine: Therapeutic Benefits of Music” panel on March 13 will address the role of music in the healthcare industry by discussing how music can be used as a therapeutic tool to improve one’s mental and physical health.

The panelists include Michael Zanders, a music therapy specialist from Texas Women’s University, Ashley Brightwell, the co-founder of the Music Is Our Weapon organization, Angela Elkins, activities director at the Senior Care Center LTC, and Indre Viskontas, professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

“Music can serve many purposes: it brings people together, it lifts moods, it energizes and inspires us,” Viskontas said. “If we can reach a patient by sharing or providing a musical experience, we can ease their sense of isolation and in turn, see an improvement in their health outcomes, not to mention the quality of life of their caregivers.”

Visokontas, who studies the cognitive benefits of music, said that during the panel she plans to explain the science behind why we love music and what happens when we play and learn music. 

Zanders said one of the goals of the panel is to explain music therapy. He said music therapy is about the relationship between a patient and a music therapist, and helping patients deal with disease or trauma.

“I see music therapy as more method-based, not necessarily outcome-based,” Zanders said. “For example, if I trip and break my leg, I wouldn’t want a music therapist ‘fixing’ it. However, if I wanted to reduce symptoms, find meaning in the experience, or even enhance coping skills, I would use a music therapist.”

Visokontas added that music especially benefits those with neurodegenerative diseases, because these diseases can cause social issues.

Brightwell said that while music has proven health benefits, the healthcare industry is not using music therapy enough, and that access to music in hospitals and nursing homes is limited to nonexistent. In response to this, Brightwell created Music is Our Weapon, an online organization that donates music equipment to healthcare facilities and works with patients to create curated playlists.

“Millions of people all over the world are fighting for their lives in a countless number of healthcare facilities,” Brightwell said. “We realized that access to music in these environments was virtually nonexistent. We are fighting for a better quality of life for people who are fighting for theirs.”

Brightwell said that during the panel he plans to discuss how music can be implemented in more healthcare facilities.

“I think that we’re just now beginning to understand the mysteries of music and how it affects us physically and mentally,” Brightwell said. “The future of music as a form of medicine is just now starting to take shape and I’m excited to see where these studies take us.”

The panel will be held at the Austin Convention Center and is open to all SXSW badges, with Interactive and Platinum badges getting priority.