Dr. Bingür Sönmez, a cardiac surgeon for more than 30 years, plays Sufi melodies on his oriental flute for his patients in reanimation. Sufism is a mystic branch of Islam whose traditional music is popular in Turkey. Sönmez said that five centuries ago mental illnesses in the Ottoman Empire were treated with music. “We are doing the same now,” says Sönmez .
After a short performance for one patient, anaesthesiologist Erol Can said the patient’s heart rate decreased by 15 per cent. According to Can, musical therapy has scientific backing. He says the hospital conducted a study of 22 patients and measured their stress levels on a scale of one to 10. Their stress went down from an average of seven to three after a 20-minute musical performance.
“We recorded heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen delivery, the oxygen saturation of the blood. Every parameter was better after these 20 minutes,” Can said.
The impact of music on anxiety is well documented by doctors and researchers. Neuroscientist Damir Janigro at Cleveland Clinic conducted a study demonstrating the calming effects of melodic music on patients undergoing brain surgery.
“With the right music,” Janigro said, “patients can be more relaxed in the operating room. And that relaxation may mean not only that procedures involve less medication—to control blood pressure, which increases with stress—but perhaps that patients have quicker recovery times and shorter hospital stays.”
But while Janigro uses an iPod to provide music to patients in his study, Sönmez and Can play live music to mimic traditional therapy practices. The doctors use different maqams, classical Turkish melodies, to treat specific conditions.
There are maqams that can help with other conditions as well. One supposedly increases your appetite; another can help you lose weight. The music has significant health results, the doctors say. But while they sing the praises of music therapy, they stress it’s a compliment—not a replacement—for conventional medicine.