Much has been written about the therapeutic qualities of classical music. Whether we
are talking about Mozart Babies, the psychological application of Classical music toward
healing mental health patients, the enrichment of seniors living in some form of
restricted ‘isolation’, physiological uses, or restful responses similar to meditation etc.
there can be little doubt that music is more than capable of rejuvenation, rehabilitation
and restoring individuals in a variety of ways.
From my own firsthand experience, I was reaffirmed through the first days of our son’s
time here in this life. He was born with an aortic defect that required immediate surgical
repair, the day after birth. Once he stabilized from the surgery and was moved to a
pediatrics ICU, the nurses were keen to chat with me about my musical background and
activity. As we had inundated Leo with music from conception whether with my live
piano playing (i.e. mainly Mozart, Chopin, and Bach) or recorded Classical Music, he
had been lovingly surrounded with it. The nurses suggested we bring a tablet or iPad in
and set up a playlist for him so he would feel comfortable, particularly during the night
hours when one of us was not at his bedside. Having done so, we returned the next day
to see the nurses beaming as we entered, telling us how the entire pediatric ICU ward
had collectively been at peace, sleeping well with many fewer than the normal
disruptions. Meanwhile, our son continued his struggle, rejecting nourishment. We
added more soothing classical music during the daytime, while he napped even when
we were present. It wasn’t long thereafter that he began to thrive and 14 days after birth
we joyfully brought him home!
Classical music is often viewed as being difficult to understand/comprehend, too
complicated, too angst driven, too over-the-top emotionally, or just too ‘boring’ and
somber. To draw again from my own experience as a traditional classical piano recitalist,
I found myself looking to add more non-traditional dimensions to my performing
repertoire. While playing the traditional repertoire that typically is virtuosic, I felt a strong
need to inject segments into my concerts that tapped into both my personal meditative /
musical experiences as well as provided something similar for my listeners. Through
this added dimension, I provided welcome contrast, the result being my recitals took on
more depth, meaning and emotional range.
The fact is classical music does require mindfulness to have its true impact upon the
listener. That ‘mindfulness’ is really a state of listening that is foreground or attentive
listening. The kind of listening that ideally has minimal if any distractions, can be done in
one session, and most importantly is led by a commitment to have one’s mind
progressively settle into a state of deep awareness and fully engaged listening.
Just what is ‘fully engaged’ listening? Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process,
function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which tones
are received as stimuli.” Active listening, on the other hand, requires attention, attitude,
and adjustment. Primarily one has “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with
thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.” Becoming an active listener whilst
attempting to have a meditative experience may seem like an oxymoron. But it’s not!
One of the most critical attitudes needed for this to succeed within you is to defer
judgement. Judgement will interfere with your processes, and block mindfulness. So, for
the music to have its fully restorative effect we must relax, let our thoughts and
emotions go along with deferring judgement. My best recommendation is to defer
judgement until after your meditative listening experience. Reflect, redirect, refine and
reengage again next session.
Now, on to some general guidelines for mindful, holistic listening.
The formula is simple as follows:
1) Choose solo piano, guitar, or harp music for best effect
2) Pandora, YouTube, Spotify etc.... all have collections of similar selections, or
relaxation / “spa” genre channels
3) Use headphones / earbuds
4) Eliminate environmental distractions
5) Start with a 20’-30’ session
6) Recline or sit quietly with eyes closed
7) Let the sound vibrate around you
8) Let your mind ‘go’ with the sounds and your thoughts and reactions come and go
naturally just as we do in meditation
9) If you doze off, you needed the rest
In closing, many feel that experiencing Classical music of any type, requires some
pre-education etc. Ideally yes, but it truly is not necessary. I have found that people
become hooked on the experience when they shed all preconceived notions and
opinions about Classical Music, and simply generate their own qualitative
experience. So, I strongly suggest you reserve your curiosity and research for a later
time. This can include reading about the composer, the music, the era it was written
within etc...All readily available on the internet.
Do remember, when we form our own experiences and opinions rather than
succumb to the ideas of others, our experience(s) will be both invaluable and
uniquely our own.
I wish you many restorative listening experiences.
J.S. Bach: Air from the Goldberg Variations
Mozart: Adagio in B minor: Sonata K. 332 in F major, Movement II
Schubert: Impromptu Op.90 No. 3 in G-flat Major
Chopin: Nocturne in G minor Op. 37, No. 1,
Liszt: Consolations 1-4, S. 172
Faure: Romance sans paroles Op. 17 No. 3 / Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat
Major, Op. 37
Debussy: Preludes Bk. 1 No, 1,2,4,7,8, 10, Nocturne, Arabesque No. 2,
Reverie, Clair de lune
Ravel: Valley of the Bells (from Mirrors), Pavane for une infante defunte
Grieg: Nocturne Op. 54, No. 4
Mompou: Musica Callada, Bks 1-4
Musicophilia: The Healing Power of Music, by Oliver Sachs
In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness, by Richard Wolf
About Allan Fuller*
*Allan Fuller is faculty member at LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore. He is a concert pianist, piano
teacher and performance coach. You can learn more about him at: http://allanfullerpianist.com/
© Allan Fuller : Replication of any part of the article is not permissible by the author
without his prior approval. For more information, contact the author directly.