Perfect Sound Forever

Pat Moffitt Cook

Pat with Nele Buna Inayenikidili (Kuna Indian Seer)

I had first heard about Pat Moffitt Cook through the amazing Shaman, Jhankri & Nele: Music Healers of Indigeneous Cultures CD on Ellipses Arts. Even doubters of religion or ceremony are bound to be amazed at the breadth of her work and discoveries of healing practices that go back centuries and are still widely practiced today. Westerners can rest assured that their 'modern science' of medical care has its origins in the work of these practioners and can still learn a lot from these traditions. Pat herself is a teacher, musician and author, having travelled and studied, recorded and participated in musical healing rituals around the world. She is the director of the Open Ear Center in Washington State where she leads classes and conferences on music and healing therapy. I spoke with her about her work and her thoughts on the field of music therapy.

PSF: How have you used music as therapy?

I've used sounds from other cultures, specially healing sounds, because they have certain acoustical elements in them. The use of high frequency (particularly nasal) sounds in their voices that seem to awaken the mind or distract the patient away from pain. The music is used to create a 'container' around someone while they're in a healing session. This helps them to enter the session, to become relaxed, then use different kinds of music in his repertoire for the work that he's doing.

PSF: You were talking about music that wasn't specifically designed as healing music that can still be used for that purpose.

There are elements in music that come from world cultures. In America, you see it's used with binoral beats where they have it in CD's called Healing Music where they have a technolgy set up to do this. Well, the ancient indigenous folks have been doing that for centuries. Some of the instruments they use, like bells, create the binoral beat. I knew that and used Tibetian bells and other types just to create the same communication between both of the brain hemispheres that gets you organized, calm and helps you sleep. There are different instruments that other cultures use that have an acoustical quality that can effect someone regardless of what culture you're from.

I find that when I'm training people in the United States, I listen to so much different music and harmony. Bulgarian women singing, Tibetian monks chanting, American Indians singing 'vocables' where you don't understand the lyric in this syllable singing, breathing techniques on intake of breath. They're found in different types of music whether they're intended for healing music or not.

PSF: How do you find these types of indigenous healing music different from the way it might be used in Western, industrialized countries?

What I find here is that there's a dissociation from what we might call spirit. To administer music in healing, it's a more behavioral, psychological approach that works but I think we have, over the centuries, stepped away from something spiritual that aligns someone with their natural balance and their natural sense of well-being inside (which is a spiritual sense). Sacred healing music of other cultures addresses that issue first. It talks about sound as something sacred then it goes from that stand-point to working with emotional, psychological issues. I think that's really missing in a lot of alternative therapies- a central point in our response to living. We're just kind of going along. We can address symptoms with music therapy or medicine but we often don't talk about something deep within that which may be a disturbance going on. I would say the main difference is the addition that emcompasses a discussion-dialog around spirituality or the sacredness of being alive.

PSF: So you see that as a problem of a lot of Western health practioners as not working on disease holistically?

Well, I think it's coming. When I watch indigenous music healers, they come from that stand-point first. They address the whole person and their song repertoire could change mid-stream if they find a development happening in the healing process.

PSF: You find that music heals not just the body itself but the mind also?

Yes I have. What I found working with clients, when you use music with the Gim method (Guided Imagery and Music, created by Dr Helen Bonney), they only use Western classical music. In the Tamatis method, they only use Gregorian chants and Mozart. In most music therapy programs in the West, we use music that is familiar to the patient because that's how you build a rapport. By stepping out of the normal repertoire, introducing sounds that are acceptable, something we can digest and listen to but is slightly different, we can expand our thought process. We have new ideas come in because we are not conditioned to this yet. We're not as much in control as when we have music that we know about. Also, we don't get bored. I think that music can become boring if it's something that we know so well. So this allows people to step out of their cultural boundries and expand a little bit. I've seen a lot of good coming out of that. On the other hand, the client population in the United States is not just white Protestant, it's now a multi-cultural nation. When I walk down a hospital hallway and you look in any of the rooms, you'll see Chinese, Native American, Carribean. How do you use music that effectively if you don't know the repertoire and yet we're talking about using music and healing. I just come from that stand-point where we need to expand our ideas on music and health care into a cross-cultural repertoire.

The book had a lot to do with some grounding information. Yes, it's existed for a long time. There've been these master music healers out there working. We can learn from them but most importantly we can see that it's something we can trust as a historical practice and now how does that fit into our paradigm here. It also introduces some kind of awareness about the fact that we need to learn about other culture's music so that we can use it in our own health care.

PSF: Have you studied music to find which tones or scales or notes can be particularly beneficial for certain diseases?

Yes. I've actully studied quite a bit with different healers in India and Indonesia. One thing is rhythm, being able to produce a composition that has a certain pulse that can slow metabolism. For instance, if you get down to 50 beats per minute, you can compose a piece for someone going into surgery. You can bring them from 80 beats per minute in a piece of music and SLOWLY train them to slow their pulse rate to 50 beats a minute. This means that this person is more receptive to receiving anesthesia, just accepting the whole process. The anxiety is less and there's a relaxation response and the pulse is lower which makes the whole process easier.

Still talking about rhythm, music that's very fast will wake you up. I'm not talking about trance music, that's another genre. If you combine a fast moving rhythm with high frequency instruments (a Vivaldi piece or a sitar or sarod bowed high), that actually excites brain cells. Someone coming out of surgery will be asked or suggested through the music to wake up. So it can help that process.

If someone's in pain and you want to distract them from that, you want to provide music like a deep flute sound. Something that distracts the mind as it's a high enough pitch and it's interesting enough where the mind leaves the thought of pain and follows the music. So, you find pieces based on what we've seen work before.

That's the rhythm part of it but there are also pitches. When you do have different frequencies of pitches that are heard at 4000 or 5000 hertz versus 250, you can effect a different response. Different instruments create a different frequency. One Indian healer that I work with will use her voice to do all of that. It's more simple for people to grasp maybe. She'll start out with a real low, almost lullabye-type singing then as she feels an engagement with the patient she will begin to strengthen the singing, the pitch goes up and it becomes nasal, which projects a more high frequency sound. That's a penetrating type sound where she can actually begin to work on the patient. Within the voice, we can even change out pitch range to effect different parts of the body. The higher we go into the body (at the head for instance), the higher the pitch becomes.

PSF: If you had to address the Ameican Medical Association, what would you tell them about your work?

I'd say that it gives a historical lineage to a practice that's been going on for several thousand years. It's part of human behavior and because of that there's enough anecdoctal stories in other cultures that use music, that it's something that we should look at. It's something that has value to it in a theruapeutic arena.

See the other Music Therapy articles