Annual Council: Doctor links ‘healthy’ music to depression recovery

Simple, melodic music and hymns play a vital role in improving depression and anxiety, according to President of Weimar Institute Neil Nedley, author of books “Proof Positive,” “Depression: The Way Out” and “The Lost Art of Thinking,” who gave a music seminar Tuesday at the General Conference Annual Council on balancing emotions and improving mental health.

In patients of his programs, many of whom are atheist and agnostic, Nedley said these healthy types of music improved their conditions and also lifted their hearts and minds to be opened to the spirit of God.

Nedley is an internal medicine specialist and studied music therapy under Juanita McElwain, the foremost developer of American university PhD programs on music therapy. Accompanied by musician Erwin Nanasi, Nedley demonstrated scientific and biblical evidence for the clinical results of music therapy in his well-known Nedley Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program.

“Melodies don’t have to be complex,” Nedley said. “They can be simple, beautiful, and they can actually produce a powerful positive effect on the brain.” 

Nedley held out a hymnal and said in it was the most exceptional Christian poetry that you’ll find anywhere, and music set to beautiful poetry helps people remember it, and elevates its meaning.

He also talked of music in nature, comparing principles of good music to birds singing. Nedley quoted Ellen White’s book “Education," which says, “Good singing is like the music of the birds—subdued and melodious,” which helps balance the brain.

Citing research by musicologists, such as Harvard’s Leonard Bernstein, Nedley said that every bird song has its own signature in the minor key. He clarified that music in minor can bring joy, as hymns and works of Bach. He said that minor musical pieces generally give more opportunities for getting into the pathos and passion and the meaning of the words, if there are words assigned to them.

Erwin Nanasi plays "Once to Every Man and Nation."

Erwin Nanasi plays "Once to Every Man and Nation."

The hymn in minor “Once to Every Man and Nation” was played by accompanist Nanasi. After the normal playing, Nanasi switched the hymn to major and the audience laughed, as they noticed the key change didn’t match the words. Nedley confirmed by changing the key from minor to major the song became light and frivolous. 

He also said harmonies that are beautiful and unsaturated with dissonance are important to resist depression and think clearly. The “blue note” in jazz and blues is called the blue note for a reason.

“These principles are universal from one culture and one language to another,” Nedley said. “There is music of different cultures just like there’s different food from different cultures. There is food that can be healthy in a culture and there is cultural food that can be very unhealthy as well.” 

He emphasized that music principles are constants, an example being Hollywood never changing a musical score for a movie. If the movie is exported, the score stays fixed, Nedley said, because Hollywood knows that whether the movie is played in Africa or England, it’s going to have precisely the same effect on a human being due to the music. 

Turning to research, Nedley said after test subjects listened to thirty minutes of classical music, the stress hormone cortisol dropped significantly by forty percent. High levels of cortical hormones adversely affect the memory and emotions, and are associated with depression, anxiety, osteoporosis, and depression of the immune system. Studies show those who listened to melodic classical music, as opposed to other rock and new age music, saw significantly more improvement in hostility, fatigue, sadness, relaxation, vigor and tension. By playing the right kind of music, Nedley said, people can actually produce a positive adrenal response.

More music styles were demonstrated, and the difference noted between straight marching rhythm and syncopated rhythm on songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Nedley mentioned studies showing that surgeons perform better when classical music is being played in the background. Dr. Ben Carson performed the first separation of twins joined at the head while listening to classical music for 72 hours, after which the Journal of the American Medical Association said, “Our data prompts us to ponder if without music, surgery would be a mistake.”

President Ted Wilson ended the seminar by noting that if they were to hold a conference on music, they might have to have a conference on peace and tranquility, because there is not much else that causes more tension than the topic of music. 

“In every culture we are seeing an influence in music that is not necessarily peculiar to your culture,” Wilson said, “but it is now becoming a world culture . . . Some things that are happening in contemporary music where you would not tell the difference between what you hear in church and what you hear next door in the night club.”

Correction: There were 72 different steps in Ben Carson's surgery, not 72 hours.