Who can understand it, this miracle that music brings? For many at life’s end, whether ill or simply bed-ridden, time slows to a crawl. In fact, with little to look forward to, there really is nothing but time. The hours stand still, especially when magnified by pain. Time is impossibly slow for those who hurt or grieve.
Music has long been understood to have power to comfort distress, to deliver us from the solitude of our sufferings. In the Old Testament, David the shepherd boy was brought before King Saul to play the harp, thereby relieving the king from his depression. Three thousand years later, we have CD players, radios, Pandora and smartphones. In whatever form it is delivered, the simple beauty of music is a therapeutic wonder.
One musician who understands music’s power is Henry Wiens, a Midwest pianist and recording artist now living in Pittsburgh, and founder of Quiet Heart Music. After years of receiving letters and calls from grateful listeners coping with grief, chronic pain, and stress, Henry recognized that his music had significant healing potential and began to distribute his CDs to nursing homes, hospices and hospitals across the nation.
Henry Wiens’ musical career as a pianist, arranger, and composer began in the country church his father pastored. His gifts of improvisation flowered there as he began to combine traditional gospel music with many other styles. He later refined these talents by studying music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota.
Wiens’ wide-ranging musical credits include arranging scores of recordings for a broad variety of artists, performing ragtime piano for “Sesame Street Live,” co-writing three nationally published musicals, and composing music for radio and television, as well as published choral music. He has now recorded seven solo piano CDs and has performed extensively throughout the country.
“Several times,” said Wiens, “I’ve been asked to play for the MN Funeral Director’s Association’s annual service of remembrance.” In this annual service they honor those in their profession who have died in the past year. I think it’s significant that they want me there and recognize that my music is in tune with those who grieve.”
Wiens’ mission with Quiet Heart Music has been to create comforting solo piano CDs which are personalized with the name of an organization (nursing home, hospice, etc) or with the name of a deceased patient/resident. The former would involve a wholesale quantity and the latter would be literally one at a time, as the need arises. This is generally used as a substitute for sending flowers to the family.
According to Dr. Lisa Wiens, his wife and strong supporter, “It’s always comforting when someone paces with us instead of hurrying us on.”
“While creating the arrangements I try to put myself in that frame of mind, imagining a listener who seemingly has nothing but time,” Henry noted.
What Wiens learned intuitively has been well documented, supported by decades of research. Organizations like the American Music Therapy Association (http://www.musictherapy.org/) have grown up around the desire to promote awareness for and the utilization of music “to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals of all ages.” Music therapy has been proven to be useful in the management of stress, to alleviate pain, express feelings, promote rehabilitation and even enhance memory.
This healing power of music has been documented from ancient times in both the Hebrew scriptures and the writings of Greek philosophers including Plato, who wrote, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” A little over sixty years ago the first formal music therapy degree program was introduced at Michigan State University in 1944. The American Music Therapy Association was created in 1998 when the National Association for Music Therapy united with the American Association for Music Therapy.
The power of music is not just a Western phenomenon. Music plays a powerful role in every culture. Witness the rise of interest in “world music” at Barnes & Noble and Amazon CD offerings. Being wired for music is part of being human.
Part of music’s power comes from the connections it brings. According to Wiens, “Hearing a familiar melody will bring past experiences to life.” For example, hearing a song that you danced to when you were 18 and in love will probably elicit some of those good feelings even decades later. Hearing a song that was sung in church while you were held on your mother’s lap may bring comfort the rest of your life.”
Oliver Sacks confirms these observations in his bestseller, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. In the preface he states that “much of what is heard during one’s early years is engraved on the brain for the rest of one’s life. Our auditory systems, our nervous systems are indeed exquisitely tuned for music.” Why people are so remarkably sensitive to music or why music has such power to connect with our deepest inner circuitry, we do not know. Nor do we know the “why” of why music is so therapeutic. We only know that these connections are being researched with deep earnestness.
Whether or we learn why or not, however, matters little to most of us. The fact is, music comforts us. Especially the music Henry Wiens has been producing. Here are just a few of the countless letter he has received since he began producing CDs under The Quiet Heart banner…
From a grieving mother: “The music from ‘The Quiet Heart’ has been a healing balm to my spirit. After the death of my son at age 19, I listened to this music daily, and found comfort and strength. After 6 years ‘The Quiet Heart’ still refreshes my spirit like a spring rain.”
From a consultant: “Henry Wiens’ soothing and relaxing improvisations on ‘The Quiet Heart’, have a unique way of quieting and speaking to one’s soul. His sensitive and unique musical touch provides the listener an oasis of contemplation that leaves them refreshed and comforted.”
From a hospitals Director of Spiritual Care: “In our hospital we play ‘The Quiet Heart’ on our closed circuit patient TV system. The purpose of this channel is to create a quiet healing environment in each patient’s room. Henry Wiens’ solo piano music lifts the spirit, calms the soul, and relaxes the patient, thus quickening their healing.”
Wiens is very deliberate in his approach to creating music that heals. “Music is like beauty for the ears and mind,” he explains. “The answer to why people are moved by beauty is rooted in what it means to be human. For me, creating and listening to music is linked to expressing love for everything that is beautiful about life. As a listener, I respond to what I ‘read between the lines’; as a composer-performer, I try to express that love and beauty to others.” Any power that music may have to touch others is rooted in the authenticity and depth of the artist’s expression.
Wiens has devoted himself to becoming a finely tuned instrument in expressing that beauty through the medium of a piano. No small wonder that his music is so evocative, so healing. As Hans Christian Anderson once observed, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
Originally published at www.ennyman.com.
The author receives no benefits for this endorsement other than the satisfaction that comes from shining a light on someone gifted who is doing a good work.