For almost 25 years, Garrett Lambert has been a part of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus (NYCGMC) — about 260 singers of various ages, backgrounds and experiences who perform widely and champion love, equality and acceptance.

Even though patient Garrett Lambert is in an isolation room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, he has continued to rely deeply on music for strength and support. The music therapists with MSK’s integrative medicine service offer individualized and group sessions — as well as art and movement therapy — which aim to ease pain, nourish social connections and bring peace and familiarity to patients in the hospital. (Read full article here.)

Music and Medicine

Music has been used therapeutically since the 1940s in the U.S. In recent years it has “expanded to treat the medically ill, including neonatal care, hospitalized children and adults and palliative care and hospice,” according to Barbara Hesser, the director of the music therapy program at New York University.

“There’s a notion in music called entrainment,” said MSK’s lead music therapist, Karen Popkin. “When we offer a regular pattern, we are able to kind of establish a river of sound or a gentle babbling brook, something that the listener can travel with.”

Sometimes it’s about improving someone’s mood or distracting them from the daily realities of being ill.

Communication and Collaboration

Popkin has seen music facilitate communication for adults in more subtle but equally powerful ways. She recalled one hospital-bound patient who engaged in a musical improvisation exercise with her husband. The patient later shared that the improvisation had allowed her to rediscover an “intimacy” with her husband that had been missing.

“She felt that this kind of communication was allowing them to really feel more like a couple,” said Popkin, who says she could sense the connection.

Popkin hopes to see an expansion of the prevalence and availability of music therapy resources. The music therapy program at MSK is well supported, however the field needs more advocacy in some regions where it’s not available as an option for patients. For people who are severely compromised in terms of their health, engaging in a musicmaking process can allow them to experience themselves as a healthy individual.

Lambert said he has to remind himself to keep coming back to it, even when he is tired and feeling weak — because music always gives him strength. (Read full article here.)

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