Think about your favorite movies, or most memorable events. Now imagine them minus the soundtracks. Whether it’s the foreground or the background, music makes has a way of elevating everything, doesn’t it? When it comes to your health (happiness, and wellbeing), your body would agree.
We’ve all experienced the effect of music on mood. It can enchant, inspire, comfort, empower. We can come away from a musical experience feeling equally soothed and revved up. But increasingly, research backs the potential of music to offer significant benefits to our health, well-being, and overall capabilities. Longmont Music therapist, instructor, and founder of Soundwell Music Therapy, PLLC, Faith Halverson-Ramos has seen the impact across numerous settings, and all walks of life; she in turn is passionately devoted to helping people harness the power of music to heal and expand their lives.
Merely listening to music has been shown to improve energy levels, heighten focus, boost memory function and cognition, improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety and more. It’s no wonder findings associate regularly listening to music with healing. Accessing music in a more involved manner, such as through music therapy, findings are all the more impressive, with results spanning from restored speech to offering pain relief and reducing the side effects of cancer therapy. In fact, with brain-imaging techniques such as functional MRIs, music is increasingly used in therapy for brain-related injuries and diseases.
Perhaps what is most striking about the power of music is its power to help everyone, regardless of personal circumstances. “One thing music can do for people, particularly when they are creating for themselves, is provide a means of better understanding themselves,” Halverson-Ramos says. “They become not only more aware of emotions, but they develop greater body awareness as well, which offers its own insights–where we hold tension, how our breathing feels, how we connect with others and our own thoughts. Often in relating to each other, we try to deflect what’s going on inside, either by talking too much or not at all, retreating. But with music, whether we’re drumming, vocalizing, listening, we become better able to drop what’s going on, open up to a larger perspective and to one another.”
Halverson-Ramos grew up immersed in and enamored with music. Her earliest memories involve an old pump organ and a player piano at her grandparents farm in Wisconsin. For many years, she worked toward a career in musical performance, though she was also interested in psychology. She earned her BM in vocal performance and vocal pedagogy, and went on to receive her Master’s in Transpersonal Counseling with a Music Therapy focus at Naropa university in Boulder. “My career goals really clicked my senior year in college, when I was preparing for a senior recital,” Halverson-Ramos says. “I realized that while I enjoy aspects of performing, the reality of the lifestyle, the competition and the auditioning, didn’t really resonate. What I truly was interested in was the internal psychological process that you have to go through to learn a piece of music, connect with and perform it. I have always had so much empathy for people who are struggling. I wanted to be able to help others connect in that powerful way.”
As a licensed counselor and Board Certified Music Therapist, Halverson-Ramos has worked and continues to offer her services across a range of settings, including schools, hospitals, and hospice centers. summer camps. At each venue, certain stories stand out amid great progress. “One of the most moving moments for me was working in hospice,” Halverson-Ramos says. “I was working with a woman in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Her son was there, and he explained that his mother didn’t speak anymore but that she loved gospel hymns. I sang to her, and on one visit, with her son present, she started singing along with me. After the song ended, she was able to share a few short sentences that were clearly related to the experience. Her son was floored. He hadn’t seen his mom that way in years. I was just so struck by the healing in that experience, for both mother and son.”
Through the Longmont Recreation Center, Halverson-Ramos offers four-week singing groups monthly: Singing for the Health of It. “Our focus is developing good vocal technique, enjoying singing with others, and trying out different things,” she says. “There is no set agenda; we go by the needs and comfort level of the group. Sometimes it’s all someone can do just to get there.”
What if you’re not ready for a group, or even an audience in the form of a teacher? Remember that listening carries a world of benefits of its own. And when you’re ready, there is always another level to explore. How to start making the most of music in your life? “I am a big proponent of just making musical sounds,” says Halverson-Ramos. “Have fun making sounds in the privacy of your car, or in the beautifully humidified environment of the shower–those are great acoustics. Just embrace your voice. It will be a key to embracing yourself.”