April 24, 2008
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| Suzanne Teng |
Photo: Helene Barbara
Musicians make a case for the healing and therapeutic powers in their meditative music
For Los Angeles-based musician/composer Chuck Wild, life began to
spiral down into a pit of anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia in
1987 when he spent three exhausting months composing music for the
ABC-TV series "Max Headroom." Wild was driving himself into the ground
with an insane 20-hour-a-day, seven-day work week.
Contributing to his state of high anxiety were deep feelings of loss
and depression triggered by watching more than 50 friends die of AIDS
during the height of the global epidemic.
Wanting to eschew the anti-anxiety medications that made him feel
spacey and drowsy, Wild began to seek out alternative methods of
treatment including music, which he hoped would have a sedative effect.
To his dismay, he found that truly relaxing music sustained over more
than one album track was extremely difficult to find.
"There was tons of ambient music out there, but it tended to be dark
and I needed something uplifting," says Wild, who first made a name for
himself as the keyboardist for the popular '80s new wave rock band
Missing Persons. "But once I was able to leave my house in early 1988,
I would go down to Laguna Beach and listen to the ocean while sitting
on the rocks. The constant sound of the waves made me incredibly
This experience at the beach inspired Wild to create Liquid Mind
music, which attempts to produce those calming sensations he felt while
listening to the ocean waves. His self-described sedative music avoids
all percussion and rhythm in its quest to create soothing sonic
textures that are constant and sustained, yet melodic. Today, his nine
Liquid Mind CDs are not only used in homes but in schools, hospitals
and even veterinary clinics across the United States.
There are numerous other musicians today creating and recording
therapeutic music as well. Flutist Suzanne Teng, a world musician who
also records and performs therapeutic music, has seen the interest in
healing music grow not only in the general public, but also in the
mainstream medical field.
Besides releasing her own CDs and recording music for film and
television, Teng has recorded music for instructional yoga and
acupuncture DVDs. She's also recorded an album called Healing Sounds
for Genentech, Inc., a leading biotechnology company that has embraced
the concept of music as a healing tool. Genentech has distributed
30,000 copies of the CD to breast cancer patients to aid in their
healing process according to Teng's Web site.
"There's more demand for this music; people are more receptive to
it," notes Teng, who lives in Topanga, Calif. "It's helped that the
yoga world has grown. It's so enormous — as one market grows so does
the other. It's just nice to see that the music has tapped into the
mainstream. Before, I wouldn't call some of what I do flute meditations
because that sounded too 'airy fairy' to some people. But that's not
the case anymore. Now I call them flute prayers, which takes it even a
Compass Productions, a Minneapolis-based company that produces
relaxation and healing CDs for Target stores, is not reluctant to
declare the therapeutic intent in some of its Lifescapes CD titles.
Sample titles include Celtic Music For Stress Relief, Zen Meditation and Music For Healing. The latter CD was produced by Dean Magraw, who composed many of the tracks while battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Tony Braasch, executive producer of the Lifescapes series, says the
company has received numerous touching letters and e-mails from people
extolling the virtues of its healing music. "Listening to what the
customers say makes it all worth it," says Braasch. "It's a wide range
of responses. A surgical clinic in Whittier, Calif., wrote in and said,
'Whittier is a low-income area [and] most of our patients have not
heard of meditation and have never experienced relaxation CDs. The
patients become so relaxed that they fall asleep [when we play your CD
at our office]. It's perfect because we want them to think of us as a
place of healing, not some place to dread.'"
Somerset Entertainment in Toronto has even enlisted the help of
medical professionals in creating therapeutic CDs on its Solitudes
label. Calming Massage was designed by Dr. Tim H. Tanaka to
help calm the mind and regulate breathing, particularly as a complement
to a massage or a relaxing activity. Another CD titled Music To Inspire Creativity
was designed by Dr. Lee R. Bartel to sequentially boost Alpha, Theta
and Beta brainwave states and inspire and support the creative thinking
"There's an album of ours called Natural Massage Therapy
that I love as well," states music producer Gordon Gibson, son of late
Somerset Entertainment founder Dan Gibson. "If I put it on immediately
my brain waves will slow down. I've listened to it so many times and
the effects are so in tune with me that I can just start to listen to
it and I can feel a physiological change. This comes after 200 listens.
I didn't believe that your brain would do that, but it clearly does."
Gibson admits that he's encountered skepticism over the claims that
certain Somerset CDs can boost qualities such as creativity. He
considered producing an album designed to boost the immune system, but
ultimately decided against it. Gibson felt the general public wasn't
ready to embrace such a concept.
Meanwhile, Wild is on a quest to establish concrete scientific
evidence that his Liquid Mind music is therapeutically viable. He has
plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who have sent him letters and
e-mails extolling the healing virtues of his music. The next step, he
says, is to establish scientific studies that will support the
innumerable positive comments he has received about his
"I'm trying to get a research partner to do a research study on how
ultra slow music, which is what my music is called, affects people with
sleep disturbance," says Wild. "So many people report spontaneously
falling asleep and being able to sleep for the first time in years. I
have e-mail after e-mail. That's led me to wanting to get real solid
Wild is also quick to point out that sedative music isn't a panacea.
He notes that he overcame his panic and anxiety disorders with a
combination of therapeutic music, meditation and psychotherapy. "For
me, the music replaced the Xanax."
(Jon Matsumoto is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.)