Transcript – Episode 24

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Peggy Codding: And so we’re very much moving in the mainstream as an integrated medicine meaning one of a number of therapies that support traditional medicine.  And so you will find us there and hopefully you will partake of us.

Anita Walker:  Hi, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council.  Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud and our guest today is Dr. Peggy Codding who is a professor of music therapy at the Berkeley College of Music.  Welcome to the program.

Peggy Codding: Thank you for the invitation.

Anita Walker: What got you interested in music therapy?

Peggy Codding: A long time really as a child, I think all of us will tell you that there was probably some moment or something that happened in our lives or to us or someone that we know.  And in my case, as a child, I was separated from my parents very early, and someone gave me a piano.  So that really became my voice.  I used that and I traveled and I performed and learned that that instrument really was over time a part of my self.  And it became really something that I thought, well, if I can do this and this works for me then it might be something that will work for other people.  Work meaning a way for a person like me or unlike me, but with similar needs would find relationship with the world.

Anita Walker: It’s amazing the power of music.  You discovered it from a personal story in your own life.  But we have seen examples of music therapy where people with profound functional disabilities can be reached and express themselves through music and it seems amazing.  How does that work?  How does that happen?

Peggy Codding: That is such a great question.  As you mentioned that to me I’m reminded of one of my early experiences where in Tennessee I accepted a position at The New Music Therapist [ph?] and new is critical in this answer at the Tennessee School for the Blind and they had no program.  And so they had arts programs, they had music performance programs, but as the laws were changing and those kids were going to..  The kids who were capable were going to public school, they had all of our kids who really had special needs as we called it back then, and I walked into a room as part of the working with children who really, really needed something.  And the room I walked into had 10 children who were deaf and blind and my training had nothing to do with that.  And so, those children taught me.  They taught me that through rhythm on a wooden floor and through touch that we could communicate with the very basic elements of music and communication.  And through that begin to have a conversation.  From that moment it’s been a building process because human needs are human needs.  There is something very powerful about music that reaches us at a base level.  But we can start at a very basic level to achieve that.

Anita Walker: When we think about music and someone, for example, who is blind or deaf like the story that you just told, is their brain different?  Do they experience music differently than people who are sighted or who hear?

Peggy Codding: Well, that’s also a great question and we haven’t had any answers for that, so we’ve made up our own over time.  When I worked with children very actively full time at the Tennessee School for the Blind, back then one of the things that I did if I may tell you a little quick story, was I was on an assessment team.  I would go into the hallers [ph?].  I don’t know if you know what that is, but they’re little pockets of communities, consisting of communities of people with their children who many times have not been out of those little spaces and into a broader world.  We would go in and we would do assessments on these children to see if we could bring them to our residential school to learn.  Life changing because they could obviously never really go back.  And what their parents told us so humbling were two things.  One, that the reason that they had these children was that they had done something wrong.  They had somehow offended God.  But the other thing they told us and many people outside of these hallers also told us was that their children were gifted and that in many cases that God had given them music as a sixth sense because God had taken their site.  And people had, for many years, many, many years still up to this day there are people who believe that to be true.  But your question is an important question because now because we have the technology, which affects our research and our understanding of things, we know that things are different.  We know that we have, for example, the concept and understand the concept much better of neuroplasticity.  That our brains allow us to compensate for the needs that our brains have.  For example, everyone knows the story of Gabby Giffords.  So she lost her ability to speak.  Not her ability to understand, she had aphasia, but she needed to learn how to talk again.  And so through music therapy she was able to access and retrain, if you will, neurons through melodic intonation therapy to begin talk, sing and then to lose singing because we can’t do that forever and then be able to talk.  So she was training her brain to deal with the disability or other neurons to take over what she could no longer do.

Anita Walker: Isn’t singing some of the very earliest things we do as infants?

Peggy Codding: It is and we do that major third, minor third singing.  We’ve all done that as children when we’re counting [ph?] our friends as we’re little kids.  And that’s a very natural thing to do.  With individuals who are blind, children who are blind, especially congenitally blind, blind from birth and then if we also add autism to that we’re find that there is something called neurodiversity.  There’s something going on in the brain that is different.  And we’re just beginning to do this research that neuroplasticity or sort of the expansion of the neurons of the brain not only allow for compensation when something is not quite right in our brain, one part of the brain to take over another part.  That there’s some combination, especially of congenital blindness and autism that is producing positive exceptional ability of these children that we’re, for example, absolute pitch or some people say perfect pitch occurs in the general population about one in 10,000 individuals.  Something 48% of these children have absolute pitch.  Now does that make them exceptional musicians?  It is an indicator.  It is an indicator.  I’m a professor at Berkeley, which you mentioned, and we pride ourselves in having great musicianship.  Not everybody there has absolute pitch.  Many people don’t, excellent musicians.  But we see this in these children.  We see that they are exceptionally interested in external sounds much more so than typical children, typical sighted children.  And that in some way that seems to be contributing, as a research is beginning to tell us, to their musicianship.  That it seems to be that sound is their voice.  For some of these children who cannot speak they speak in music and they correct their music therapist and in terms of the key that the music is in, “No, that’s not the key.  That’s not the right key.  Fix that or I’m going to get grumpy at you” and I’m going to let you know in some way.  So that music has become a voice for many of these children.  And we all know about savants and there are savants out there, but I’m not talking only about those children who are savants.  Clearly they’re there, but we’re beginning to speak of these children as having some additional in to music ability.  Do we know exactly what that is?  We don’t.  But it seems to be related to now not, and I say this respectfully, God giving children an extra talent because something is missing, but something that is there based on neuroplasticity.  The ability of the brain to bring about synapses, neurons attaching to neurons in such a way that because there’s not sight, because there’s a way that children who have autism communicate is also attaching itself to musical ability.  And I find it incredibly fascinating and I want to know more.

Anita Walker: In your research have you ever discovered a people or a culture without music?

Peggy Codding: The anthropologists tell us no and National Geographic and all those people who go in and really look for new cultures, new communities, they tell us no.  That music is a part of all cultures.  And when we look at the Anasazi, the old cultures that existed in the Southwest here, and also that existed even in Japan, same basic culture.  And they lived in these small kivas.  They lived in these small basically round houses that were tiny and held large families and so there wasn’t much room.  So what did people decide to have in that small space?  They had art and they had a space for a drum.  They had music in these very small spaces and very large families.  Very important.  When I would go into the hallers [ph?] , as I mentioned these small communities that were very isolated in Tennessee and they’re still there, these families, small cultures, were still playing the music on instruments that they make, that they still make, that they learned how to make and pass down for generations.  And the music that they’re still playing is Elizabethan music that came over from England.  That’s what they pass down to their children.  So there’s music and the music, it is the culture.  It speaks for the culture.  But we all have that.  So you know, we know we’re home when the music sounds right to us, whatever right is, we know we’re home.

Anita Walker: Is this a growth area?  Are you seeing more and more young people maybe no longer seeing first chair in a major symphony orchestra as being a goal that is attainable, looking at other ways to use their musical training and their musical ability?  Is music therapy growing as a field?

Peggy Codding: Absolutely.  There are many opportunities for our students to work because we at Berkeley feel like they don’t leave us until their ready.  They complete their training with us and then they do a six month internship.  And then there are jobs in many places available or many of our students start their own practice.  They’re able to do that in this country or they go home, because many of our students are from other countries, and so they may go back to another country and start a program or be a part of a program there.  But also in addition to their work as music therapists, our students are good musicians.  Not all of them want to be first chair in the Boston Symphony.  There’s only one of those.  But they are excellent musicians.  So most of them play, most of them perform, and they also do clinical practice.  So they’re very well rounded because our program is very much a music centered program.

Anita Walker: You talked about your work in medical settings.  Is music therapy universally embraced by the medical fields, by hospitals?  Is it recognized as an effective component of a person’s medical practice?

Peggy Codding: Great question.  Well, first of all, we can say that in the United States versus other countries that we are becoming pretty much..  We’re moving toward universal acceptance.  We are a part of something called integrated medicine.  We learned way back in the 80s when a study that was circulated very rapidly that 80% of Americans at that time, in the early 80s, were using some kind of, at that time we called it alternative medicine.  That you were going out to do acupuncture.  You were going out to do something.  And a lot of people weren’t talking to their physicians about that.  And so, people started going, “Hmm.”  Physicians started going, “Well, what are they doing?  What are they doing that’s nontraditional?”  And so people started looking at that and then they started looking at music.  And now got ________ at Mass General.  Others are definitely embracing the work that we do.  The neurologists are right behind us.  They’re talking about it very clearly and incorporating what we do into their own research.  Oliver Sacks before his death, we just lost him as you know, very much a proponent of what do and even his own experience spoke to that in his own life.  And so we’re very much moving in the mainstream as an integrative medicine meaning one of a number of therapies that support traditional medicine.  And so you will find us there and hopefully you will partake of us.

Anita Walker: Dr. Peggy Codding, another creative mind out loud.

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