Johns Hopkins partners with Peabody Institute to increase patient engagement through music

Music soothes the savage beast, and it also appears to have therapeutic qualities in a healthcare setting.

Just how music helps, and how much, is the subject of a study that Johns Hopkins neurologist Alex Pantelyat, M.D., has undertaken in a developing collaboration between members of the Johns Hopkins medical community and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. An article in The Baltimore Sun describes the Center for Music & Medicine, the cross-disciplinary organization Pantelyat directs along with Serap Bastepe-Gray, a classical guitarist who also earned a medical degree in Turkey, and Sarah Hoover, a vocalist and former voice teacher.

Recent studies have shown tantalizing evidence of music’s ability to affect neurological conditions, particularly stroke, epilepsy and autism, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, according to the article. Pantelyat has already taken on a study at the Center for Music & Medicine looking at the effects of choral singing on patients with Parkinson’s. Regardless of the quantitative results that eventually come out of the study, the chorus’ conductor, Leo Wanenchak, who trained at the Peabody Institute, says the group is among the most engaged he has led, and that the singers have opted to continue to meet regularly after the study’s conclusion.

Professional musicians expect to benefit from the collaboration as well, since a majority of them suffer debilitating injuries of one kind or another in the course of their careers. Bastepe-Gray and Hoover are currently putting together a clinical and research center that studies these injuries, to help improve musicians’ occupational health.

Pantelyat says his involvement with the collaboration has mainly been a matter of being in the right place at the right time, with rising industry interest in alternative therapies and specific interest in exploring links between health and music ripe both at Johns Hopkins and at Peabody.

Though music therapy has been around since the 1940s, Pantelyat still sees strong potential for further study. “We know a lot more about all this than we did 10 to 15 years ago, but there’s still a great deal to unearth,” he says.