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Healing Notes

Mozart as medicine


TIHAR IDOLS: Three convicts and seven remand prisoners have formed a band at the jail

On the cricket field, the sound of stumps flying is music to Brett Lee's ears. Off the field, Mozart is the only music he wants to hear. Lee, who's known more for making batsmen sway with his bouncer bombs, is handy with the bass guitar and is also one-half of the band White Shoe Theory, along with lead vocalist Mick Vawdon. Whether it was for his guitar-playing skills or the blonde surfer boy looks one doesn't know, but fans, especially female, were something the band never had to work too hard to find whenever they toured India.

But music isn't just how Lee cools off. It's an integral part of his life. If it weren't for music, he says, he wouldn't be the celebrity he is today. Born to a metallurgist and a piano teacher, music was something the Lee household was never without, and watching his mother play the piano is what drew him to music.

In a career that has included many highs and as many lows - thirteen surgeries and a broken marriage - music was what Lee leaned on to keep himself sane and motivated. He recalls an incident when he was 17 and an elbow injury had nearly ended his cricket dream. "The doctor told me I would never bowl, let alone play the guitar, " he says. But I persevered, and music helped me get through that dark patch. Music has cheered me up after a bad day of cricket or even during a personal crisis. It's been great to me. "

Intended to help others through similarly gloomy days is Lee's gift to India a non-profit foundation called Mewsic. Established in 2011, Mewsic has set up music centres in slums and NGOs in five states, and has given child labourers, street kids and other disadvantaged children the opportunity to learn to sing, dance and play instruments. "Music has so many therapeutic uses, " the cricketermusician remarks. "Because of my love for music and the role it played in my life, where it helped me to stand on my feet literally, I know it can help so many others, especially kids. "

Emily Harrison, an Australian who heads the Brett Lee foundation and oversees the running of the music centres, says the latter currently reach out to almost 550 children, some of whom once worked as labourers and rag pickers. "The kids have really embraced the idea and they take it seriously. It's important to give them the opportunity to be able to do something, and I'm proud of that. The belief they take from this training or therapy could kick-start their life, " says Lee proudly. Mewsic is also in the process of launching a curriculum to teach subjects such as maths and English through music - a curriculum that stimulates the creative side of the brain, which makes content easier to remember.

Lee's latest project is the Music Therapy Academy in New Delhi in collaboration with the UK-based Music Therapy Trust. The academy will train Indian music professionals to use music as a therapeutic tool in working with children with autism, disabilities and trauma and offer a post-graduate diploma course in clinical music therapy. The prerequisite for getting enrolled at the academy is that prospective students should be able to play one or two Indian or Western instruments like the sitar or guitar. At present, six students are enrolled at the academy. "This will generate a network of qualified trained professionals who could help many more people, " Lee says.

Apart from Lee, there are many other proponents of music therapy, among them the officials at Delhi's Tihar Jail. Stress levels and grief are, naturally, constant companions of inmates, but the introduction of music rooms - part of the prison's innovative rehabilitation schemes - has seen gloomy faces transform into smiling, creative ones. In the past one year, workshops on Hindi and Western classical music, Bengali music and Bollywood music have seen a phenomenal response from the inmates. Delhi-based bands such as Menwhopause and Ska Vengers have been actively involved in creating better music facilities and developing talent in what is the largest prison complex in South Asia. They have organised workshops and even donated instruments like drum sets, tablas, keyboards and amplifiers.

So popular has the initiative been that the inmates have formed their own band, Flying Souls - consisting of three convicts and seven remand prisoners - who do a mixture of covers and even originals. Tihar Jail DG Neeraj Kumar, who is a keen advocate of music for inmates, says he was so "pleasantly surprised" by the depth of talent among prisoners that he started a 'Tihar Idol' competition to select inmates who will cut a commercially produced album. "Prisoners vent and give release to creative energies, and we are trying to reform them through music, " Kumar said in an interview last week, adding that access to musical instruments even cured a female inmate of her suicidal tendencies.

Vishala Khurana, along with younger sister Kamakshi, is a trained vocalist who never quite believed in music's healing powers despite the fact that her father, Harendra Khurana, has been practising music therapy for 35 years. Today, the sisters run Sound Space, a series of workshops that "provide alternative, non-medicinal healing, using music and sound therapy".

"In layman's terms, music affects everybody, " says the soft-spoken Vishala. "And there's a reason for it. Music works on the left and right side of the brain. A regular rhythm like in Mozart's music - one beat per second - can help you think logically. Instrumental music affects the right side of the brain. " Sound Scape offers different programs for both adults and children, which use sound and music in tandem with meditation, dance and yoga. Harendra Khurana has treated everyone from dancers with chronic backaches to cops with spondylitis. He chants beeja mantras or sacred vowels that resonate with the body's energy chakras to opening up particular chakras. Each chakra has its own beeja mantra. It is believed that when the chakras are well balanced and energised, the body glows with health and wellness.

Lucanne Magill, a trainer at the Music Therapy Academy, supports the theory. "India is one of the very few countries where people have a deep understanding of the connection between music and healing. But it is not developed as a prescriptive therapy, " she has said in an interview.

Dealing with non-believers is something the Khuranas do on a daily basis. "We don't claim to cure you of your physical ailments but we will help you deal with them better, " says Vishala. "And all it takes is one session for people to change their mind. "


Music therapy is no new-fangled mantra. As old as the Hippocratic oath, it is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualised goals. Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and this stimulation has been shown to help in development of language and speech functions, to promote socialisation and development of communication, selfexpression and motor skills.

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder have been found to respond very positively to music and many, in fact, display high levels of musical skill. Music encourages verbal as well as non-verbal communication and promotes social interaction and relatedness. It is a valuable outlet for self-expression and creativity. It has also been successfully used in pain management by providing a distraction from the painful stimulus as well as a means of relaxation and stress alleviation.

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