When patients have ‘music emergencies’

Music therapy has many uses, from treating individuals in private practice to elderly care settings.

Elizabeth Landau writes: Brian Jantz marched down the hallway of the hospital with his guitar, accompanying a 4-year-old oncology patient with a maraca and a drum. He remembers they were singing their own creative version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

The girl had been anxious about an upcoming X-ray, he said, and resisted going to the procedure. Hospital staff paged Jantz to help. He kept the music going even on the elevator; the girl's parents, a nurse and a child-life specialist sang, too.

"I'm not completely sure that she realized when it was happening ... because before you knew it, we were back on the elevator, back in the room, and the music just continued straight through," Jantz said.

Jantz is one of two music therapists at Boston Children's Hospital, where the idea of using music to help patients as young as premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit has taken off in the last decade. Jantz and his colleague have scheduled visits with patients in almost every unit but will come to a melodic rescue in urgent situations.

"We kind of joke around, 'It's like a music emergency,' but it really is," Jantz said. "It really can be like, 'This patient needs music therapy right now.' "

Music therapy formally began in the 20th century, after musicians went to play for World War I and World War II veterans at hospitals across the United States. Today, there are ...

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