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Opera music is "for the heart"

Opera 'is music for the heart'

Listening to Pavarotti sing the Nessun Dorma could help stroke rehabilitation

Monday, 22 June 2009 00:02 UKE-mail this to a friend Printable version

Listening to the right kind of music can slow the heart and lower blood pressure, a study has revealed.

Rousing operatic music, like Puccini's Nessun Dorma, full of crescendos and decrescendos is best and could help stroke rehabilitation, say the authors.

Music is already used holistically at the bedside in many hospitals.

Not only is it cheap and easy to administer, music has discernable physical effects on the body as well as mood, Circulation journal reports.

Music with faster tempos increases breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, while slower-pace music does the reverse. Music induces a continuous, dynamic - and to some extent predictable - change in the cardiovascular system
Lead researcher Dr Luciano Bernardi

Dr Luciano Bernardi and colleagues, from Italy's Pavia University, asked 24 healthy volunteers to listen to five random tracks of classical music and monitored how their bodies responded.

They included selections from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, an aria from Puccini's Turandot, a Bach cantata (BMW 169), Va Pensiero from Nabucco and Libiam Nei Lieti Calici from La Traviata.

Every musical crescendo - a gradual volume increase - "aroused" the body and led to narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and heart rate and increased respiratory rates.

Conversely, the decrescendos - gradual volume decreases - caused relaxation, which slowed heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

Swelling crescendos

The researchers tested out various combinations of music and silence on the volunteers and found tracks rich in emphasis that alternated between fast and slow, like operatic music, appeared to be the best for the circulation and the heart.

Verdi's arias, which follow music phrases that are 10 seconds long, appeared to synchronise perfectly with the natural cardiovascular rhythm.

Dr Bernadi said: "Music induces a continuous, dynamic - and to some extent predictable - change in the cardiovascular system.

"These findings increase our understanding of how music could be used in rehabilitative medicine."

Diana Greenman is chief executive of Music in Hospitals, a UK-based charity that provides live music to hospitals, hospices and care and residential homes across the country, which was originally set up after the war to help injured veterans.

She said: "We have seen enormous benefits in people who have had strokes or heart attacks. The power of music is just incredible.

"Music is holistic, but I hear time and again of stroke patients who suddenly are able to move in time to the music after previously being paralysed."

She said it was important to tailor the performance to the individual, since not all people appreciate the same music.

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