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The Music Heals Project

Updated on July 24, 2016
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I started working in the performing arts industry after attending Colgate University in 1981. My early work was as a personal manager.

Mike Garson and Dr. Christopher Duma

Together, they are not just acknowledging the healing power of music, but defining therapeutically how music heals in people with Neurodegenerative Diseases, Depression and Brain Traumas.
Together, they are not just acknowledging the healing power of music, but defining therapeutically how music heals in people with Neurodegenerative Diseases, Depression and Brain Traumas. | Source

The Music Heals Project is codifying how music works therapeutically.

The partnership of world renowned Musician, Mike Garson, and Neurosurgeon, Dr. Christopher Duma, has resulted in heartfelt purpose that takes research in music's healing abilities to a new level they refer to as; "The Music Heals Project".

The work they are conducting is identifying what music works in treating patients with neurological diseases such as, Alzheimer's, Autism, and Parkinson's, and with those who suffer from Depression, the leading mental disorder now considered an epidemic in the United States and around the world.

The project has been a twenty year dream of Mike Garson's, who has certainly seen the power of what music can do aesthetically from his world travels as a professional musician. But it was meeting Dr. Duma at a function in Orange County, California a few years ago, and discovering that they each have a passion for what the other does, that prompted Mike to approach Dr. Duma about formalizing this research project.

Ironically, at one point in Dr. Duma's life, he considered pursuing music as a career choice, and Mike Garson considered becoming a medical doctor at one point before pursuing music.

So it seemed like fate that the two would begin this important research work together.

Dr. Duma is one of the most respected brain surgeons in Southern California. His general neurosurgery is performed using state-of-the-art neuron-navigational computers, and he prides himself in being a master of minimally invasive neurosurgery accomplishing better results, by being less invasive and using more powerful, modern tools.

His patient's couldn't agree more.

Kathy Hyams of Huntington Beach, CA. is now a thirteen year survivor of Breast Cancer Brain Metastases, and says this of Dr. Duma,

"Dr. Duma surgically removed a large metastatic tumor in my brain in January 2001, and has performed Gamma Knife radio-surgery several times since then as new tumors have been found. He is always concerned for my well-being and takes the time to explain so I understand my choices, and the results have always been successful. I trust him with my life!"

Richard I.Teter, a five year survivor of GLIOBLASTOMA MULTIFORM, has this to say,

"I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to meet such a brilliant and magnificent man. You have extended my life, not only in time, but also the quality of life while living with cancer and brain tumors as well. I couldn’t thank you enough for your dedication, brilliance, and expertise in battling my brain tumors".

Mike Garson is perhaps most notably known for touring and playing with David Bowie from 1972 through 2004. He is a classically trained pianist who has also toured and played with such legendary groups and artists as, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Corgan, Free Flight, The Smashing Pumpkins, Stan Getz, and Freddie Hubbard.

An eclectic songwriter and composer, Garson has created songs in all genres of music, from Classical, Jazz, and Pop. He has composed 5000 pieces of music in his body of work.

He gave the piano and keyboard backing on the later Ziggy Stardust Tour and is credited with giving the song, "Aladdin Sane" an avant-garde jazz feel with it's piano solos.

"I told Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the "Aladdin Sane" track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: 'play a solo on this.' I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: 'No, that’s not what I want.' And then I played a Latin solo. Again, Bowie said: 'No no, that’s not what I want.' He then continued: 'You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!' And I said: 'Are you sure? ‘Cause you might not be working anymore!'. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. And to this day, I still receive emails about it. Every day. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing", says Garson.

Mike Garson is regarded in the music industry as one of the very few 'rock' pianists capable of performing extended piano solos. He remains one of the most highly sought-after session musicians with a unique sound of his own.

His piano playing is even featured in the new suspense thriller movie, "Gone Girl", starring Ben Affleck.

It is the mutual respect of each others careers and accomplishments, and willingness to heal through their respective work, that the Music Heals Project is making real headway in the research of how music can effectively treat patients with various neuro-degenerative diseases, or help patients recover from debilitating accidents where brain injuries have occurred.

"The absolute difference between run-of-the-mill music therapy, is that we are tailor-making music for different diseases. A certain type of meter, time signature for Parkinson's Disease, Mike will figure out what helps Autism, old memorable music riffs for Alzheimer's disease. We will be testing more patients with my students. I'm waiting for my newly developed ear buds (Patent Pending), where patients have them deep in their ears ALL DAY, making them move better, or more receptive. Mike creates the music", says Dr. Duma.

The work being conducted in this research is bringing the music and medical science together for a comprehensive understanding of how to use music medically in treating patients.

In a 2011 Prevention Magazine article, the magazine sites:

A 79-year-old stroke survivor learns to walk again as the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" guides his legs.

A woman with terrible insomnia now slips into dreamland courtesy of Pachelbel's timeless Canon in D.

In a hospital intensive-care unit, patients on ventilators who listen to music of their choice actually relax, while those who don't hear music grow more tense. Exciting research suggests that the brain responds to music almost as if it were medicine. It may regulate some body functions, synchronize motor skills, stimulate the mind—even make us smarter.

Music making us smarter during pregnancy has been called the "Mozart Effect", and is a topic for another time, but what Mike Garson and Dr. Duma are accomplishing with the Music Heals Project is amazing work that expands the possibilities of one day reducing the cause and effect of neuro-degenerative diseases and depression, and just maybe one day, ridding us from them altogether.


How Does It Work

By actually working with the patients on what music makes a difference in how a patient feels and is able to respond, Mike Garson has been able to create what he calls "symphonic suites" that are now therapeutic orchestrated ensembles with amazing results for patient's taking part in this research.

- Music-based therapy seems to help brain-damaged patients relearn how to walk and talk.

- Science is still awaiting solid data to support the technique.

- Songs can help create new speech pathways in the brain that circumvent damaged regions.

"It used to be thought that music was a superfluous thing, and no one understood why it developed from an evolutionary standpoint," said Michael De Georgia, director of the Center for Music and Medicine at Case Western Reserve University's University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

What music can do for you Clinical studies and anecdotal evidence from music therapists suggest that the sound of music:

  • manages pain
  • improves mood and mobility of people with Parkinson's disease
  • reduces the need for sedatives and pain relievers during and after surgery
  • decreases nausea during chemotherapy
  • helps patients participate in medical treatment that shortens hospital stays
  • relieves anxiety
  • lowers blood pressure
  • eases depression
  • enhances concentration and creativity

The best part is that to take advantage of music's healing power, you don't need to take a prescription to your local music store. You don't even have to go to the music store at all. The home remedies you need are probably already in your music collection.

"Many years of research have shown me that there is no set prescription, no particular piece of music that will make everyone feel better or more relaxed," says Suzanne Hanser, EdD, chairperson of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music and a music therapist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston. "What counts is familiarity, musical taste, and the kinds of memories, feelings, and associations a piece of music brings to mind. Some people relax to classical music, others like the Moody Blues. The key is to individualize your musical selections."


Mike Garson is a prolific musician whose labor of love with this project has become a life's work.

Garson has composed several musical pieces that allows patients the ability to identify what music works allowing them relief mentally and mobility physically.
Garson has composed several musical pieces that allows patients the ability to identify what music works allowing them relief mentally and mobility physically. | Source

The Music Heals Project Video Introduction

Congress Woman Gabrielle Giffords

Congress Woman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords sites how music has allowed her to recover and learn how to speak again after being critically injured from a gunshot wound to the head in January of 2011.
Congress Woman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords sites how music has allowed her to recover and learn how to speak again after being critically injured from a gunshot wound to the head in January of 2011. | Source

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on how Music helps her recovery.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords sites how music helps her recovery.

Among the devastating consequences of her brain injury from a gunshot wound, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords lost the ability to talk. But with help from music-based therapy, according to an ABC News segment that aired this week, Giffords has rediscovered her voice and, it seems, her spirit.

The footage, which shows Giffords crying in frustration when she tries unsuccessfully to talk but looking joyful as she sings fluently, paints a dramatic picture of the power of music to help people overcome brain injuries.

Giffords' story also highlights both the potential and the limitations of a fairly new field of medicine.

Music brings so much pleasure to our everyday lives, and it would make sense if music also worked as a healing tool. But scientists are still awaiting solid data to prove what seems to work in case study after case study.

In the last 10 years, we've just started to understand how broad and diffuse the effect of music is on all parts of the brain. We are just starting to understand how powerful music can be. We don't know what the limits are.

As early as the post-World War II era, physical therapists noticed that Big Band music helped wounded veterans get up and learn to walk again", said Lee Anna Rasar, a musical therapist at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.

Since then, researchers have documented a consistent pattern. When given a rhythm to walk to, people with Parkinson's disease, strokes and other forms of neurological damage are able to regain a symmetrical stride and a sense of balance. Each beat serves as an auditory cue that the brain uses to anticipate timing and regulate footfalls.

In the last decade, researchers have also begun to demonstrate ways that music-based therapies can help with speech recovery. In particular, a type of treatment called melodic intonation therapy has shown the greatest promise, Rasar said. Using a combination of rhythm, pitch, vision and hearing, the brain manages to sing words that it can't say.

Opening fanfare of the SYMPHONIC HEALING SUITE.

Mike Garson served as David Bowie's piano man from 1972 through 2004, but is also a classically trained pianist and Jazz musician.

Dr. Christpher Duma

Dr. Duma was eager to partner with Mike Garson to develop the Symphonic Suites that allows patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimers, Autism, Brain Trauma, and Depression, the ability to restore a quality of life therapeutically through music.
Dr. Duma was eager to partner with Mike Garson to develop the Symphonic Suites that allows patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimers, Autism, Brain Trauma, and Depression, the ability to restore a quality of life therapeutically through music. | Source

About the Foundation that sponsors the Music Heals Project

Raising awareness for the healing power of music.

"The Foundation for Neuroscience, Stroke and Recovery, (FNSR, www.fnsroc.org) was my brainchild in 2005. Instead of a 501(c)3 Corporation benefiting a particular hospital, I wanted to start a charity that benefited my patients and other patients like mine throughout the country.

We have been helping patients with free support groups, free exercise and therapy classes, and free psychotherapy all across the Orange County area. We of course want to expand our horizons, and as our next project, the Board of Directors have decided to bring music as a Healing Art to the world community! Thus, the birth of our Symphonic Suite for Healing project and our mission to create Music Therapy programs.


This initial Music-Heals Project was jump-started on March 1st, 2014 with our sold-out performance of the world premier of Mike Garson's Symphonic Suite for Healing. Three separate standing ovations, and a packed house, made the concert an enormous success. We raised awareness for the healing power of music, we are now going forth with bringing that power to local communities and hospitals.

Please join us with your support of this project".

~ Dr. Christopher Duma

Mike Garson & Orchestra prepare for Concert

Rehearsal for The World  Premiere of  "THE SYMPHONIC SUITE FOR HEALING"
Rehearsal for The World Premiere of "THE SYMPHONIC SUITE FOR HEALING"

The World Premiere of "THE SYMPHONIC SUITE FOR HEALING"

In association with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Dr. Duma produced the world premiere of The Symphonic Suite for Healing at 8:00 PM on Saturday, March 1st, 2014, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, in Costa Mesa. The Symphonic Suite for Healing program included the imaginative and thought-provoking work of composer Mike Garson set in motion by a talented cast of musicians from all over the United States, including violinist Drew Tretick as well as instrumentalists from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and Colburn Orchestra. A backdrop of silhouette dancers using bodies in motion and soloists from youth orchestras and the Southern California Children's Chorus under the direction of Lori Loftus, rounded out the performance.

Standing Proud

Gratitude

Brubeck Tribute Blue Rondo Segerstrom

The emotional impact of Mike Garson's music is highlighted by a Parkinson's patient.

Nancy Dufault, 72, who has Parkinson's, takes a bow after dancing the tango with her husband, Bob, at "Symphonic Suite for Healing."
Nancy Dufault, 72, who has Parkinson's, takes a bow after dancing the tango with her husband, Bob, at "Symphonic Suite for Healing." | Source

Symphonic Suites ~ "Tango"

Dr. Christopher Duma of the Music Heals Project

A Renowned Brain and Neuro-Surgeon, Dr. Duma actually considered pursuing music as a career.
A Renowned Brain and Neuro-Surgeon, Dr. Duma actually considered pursuing music as a career. | Source

Elton John

"Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours".

An afternoon with Mike Garson and special guest Christopher Duma, M.D. FACS

This concert will be a reprise performance by Mike Garson, who is a longtime pianist for and collaborator with David Bowie, will be performing music by David Bowie, Dave Brubeck, Gershwin, and Paganini. He'll also give a performance of "Symphonic Suite for Healing," pieces he composed written in collaboration with patients who suffer from various disorders and ailments with the intent of healing through music. Please reach out to friends and others to support this event.

Taking place at: Laguna Woods Village Clubhouse III Theater
23822 Avenida Sevilla, Laguna Woods, CA 92637

Date: Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
Commencing at 2:00 PM

Get More Details on this and other Music Heals Project events at: http://www.music-heals.com/music-heals-2

Encore Performance Success!

Performing before a capacity crowd at the Laguna Woods Village Clubhouse III Theater, in Laguna Woods, California, this concert event was Mike Garson and Dr. Christopher Duma's way of thanking all of those who have supported them with The Music Heals Project work, and to say thank you to their patients participating in the research.

The photos following this entry are from that show held on Sunday, November 2nd, 2014.

Thank you all for considering a dream I have had for 20 years.

— Mike Garson

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      Matthew Rubinrott 3 years ago

      Kudos on the commendable work!