"Music Therapy Soothes"
by Lynn Collier
Northwest View, Las Vegas, Nevada
September 4, 1996
In the corner of a Green Valley bookstore, Judith Pinkerton pressed her chin firmly against her violin and begins to play.
With her eyes closed she raises her bow and strikes the strings sharply. The small group of listeners tilt their heads against the nervous, racing notes.
After a few minutes she glides into a soothing piece. Many people seated in the front row of seats close their eyes and sway their head gently. A few book browsers even stop to take a seat and soak up some soothing sounds.
Finally she snaps out of the solo with the upbeat "The Entertainer." The listeners smile and nod their heads during a faster, happier beat.
It's part of what Pinkerton calls USE music. It's a sequence of unsettling, soothing and energizing music that plays the emotional tendons like a fiddle.
She has written all about her theory and her experiences as a music therapist and musician in a book called "The Sound of Healing."
"When you USE music you are able to match moods to music that address your full range of emotions," Pinkerton said.
Her 195-page book tells the reader what music fits into each category. For instance, Counting Crows' "Perfect Blue Buildings" is described as unsettling. Kenny G's "Sentimental" is in the soothing category, and Elton John's "The Circle of Life" is considered energizing.
Pinkerton said these categories can fit into any type of music - country, classical, pop or jazz. In her book she talked about pace, tempo and rhythm and other musical ingredients that make up a piece and how they affect people differently. Pinkerton reminded listeners there's always exceptions to the USE method.
She said people become conditioned to familiar pieces of music, and it automatically makes them feel a certain emotion. She recommended people seek the help of an experienced music therapist and traditional therapist when dealing with deeply rooted emotions.
She works with clients from her Northwest valley home studio to help them find the right music to sleep, exercise, or overcome depression, anger or grief.
She talked about one client who was a jazz lover.
"She was stuck in her anger," Pinkerton said.
After a couple music therapy sessions she changed her preferences and listened to fewer scratchy, high-pitched jazz that matched her angry mood.
Like a well-balanced food diet, Pinkerton said, people should have a varied selection of music, which includes unsettling, soothing and energizing pieces.
"When people say they have an eclectic selection, I applaud them," she said. "When they say they only listen to this or that, a red flag goes up."
People need to match their moods with music so they can feel certain emotions and then go on to the next emotion, she said. But it's not the same for everyone.
In fact soothing music can mean different things to different people.
Her book states teens really do find heavy metal music calming because it matches their anxiety.
Terry Mahoney, a listener at one of Pinkerton's seminars, agreed.
Her 17-year-old son still locks himself in his room and plays Nirvana for hours at a time.
A few years earlier, he had been going to counseling sessions to overcome angry feelings caused by an earlier family trauma that involved the sexual abuse of a sibling.
"He would just sit there with his arms folded. He clammed up and wouldn't talk," she said. "The only way we could get him to open up was to irritate him."
Mahoney thinks music theory could have helped her son get through his emotional block.
Pinkerton works with several local therapists to help patients do the same thing. This week she's starting a new program at Henderson's Regina Hall, a residential group home for troubled girls age 12 to 17.
"We want to try this out," said Poco Davis, Regina Hall's director.
"I truly believe music does have an effect in all our lives, and if we can learn to usa it positively and learn to understand it, it will be a big help to all of us."
Pinkerton will spend time with Davis and her seven-member staff to explain what kinds of music make people feel certain ways before she starts therapy sessions with the 10 girls that live there.
Davis said it's not only important for the staff to understand the girls' music but understand their own taste in music.
"What we say, how we act, it's all going to affect the girls," she said. "We affect them that much."
If the music therapy is successful, Davis plans to make it a permanent part of her program at the 27-year-old home.
Pinkerton also trains hospital staff and Clark County School District teachers to choose the best music to heal and learn.
Both cases call for calming music to relax the mind and body. She said it's common for surgeons to want to play The Rolling Stones in the operating room, but that's not what the patient needs to best heal. "The patient needs his own listening space - earphones or whatever - so he can hear soothing music," she said.
She stumbled onto the healing quality of music when she played mellow classical tunes, Irish medleys and easy listening violin music for her former husband. The night before his back surgery, she recorded a one-hour tape of his favorite pieces.
While he was in recovery, Pinkerton placed earphones over his head so he could listen to the soothing music. She said it lowered his blood pressure and the nurse did not have to administer and medication.
Music therapy dates to 1940s when musicians were hired to play for people in World War II. Though research is still relatively new in the field, it is gaining more acceptance. Medicare will pay for music therapy under certain conditions.
Can music really make people drive, sleep, eat, learn, work and even heal better?
Pinkerton thinks so.
Her compact disc, called "MEE" (Music Exercising Emotions), features her local band and was recorded to help people through physical, as well as emotional illnesses.
It was used in a two-year study to lower stress in cancer patients at the St. George, Utah, Cancer Center Services.
She said music raises or lowers the heart beat. The most soothing beat, recent research said, is 55 to 70 beats per minute, which is the same rate of the heart at rest.
Pinkerton has been playing the violin most of her adult life. She's toured the world with different symphonies and spent 25 years in Alaska, part of that time she spent booking concerts in Anchorage.
In the last decade she's devoted her talent almost exclusively to therapy.
She founded the nonprofit Center for Creative Therapeutic Arts to help her with her work.
After moving back to Las Vegas from St. George this summer, she set up her private practice.
In her home she gives private therapy sessions for $75 and for another $25 will evaluate a client's music collection and prepare a personalized tape for them.