In Brief: What is Prescriptive Music™?

Hans Jenny1
Hans Jenny2
Hans Jenny3

These three images come from the cymatics laboratory of Hans Jenny and demonstrate visually that different frequencies create sublime order and structure from what had begun as random chaos.

With the work of Ernst Chladni (1756-1827) and later Hans Jenny (1904-1972), modern physics has proven conclusively that sound is an organizing force and therefore, by extension, music is a reorganizing force. The study of wave phenomena demonstrates that sound reorganizes matter. Music reorganizes the human being. Highly skilled musician-clinicians can learn to bring sound and music into the medical setting to stimulate and/or suppress (and thus transform) physiological conditions as well as inner emotional or mental states. Prescriptive music can be understood as a compound sonic medicine, and is delivered live, at the bedside, on polyphonic instruments, by practitioners certified in music-thanatology by the Chalice of Repose Project. Using voice and harp, musician-clinicians can work solo or in small teams, positioning themselves on either side of the dying patient. The person who is receiving the music may be experiencing either physiological pain or interior suffering or both, and may additionally be morphine-intolerant, or in general, greatly needing non-invasive and non-mechanical, profoundly human responses to increasing vulnerability. In all cases, the musician-clinician is working with vital signs, measurables, and is able to document in an evidence-based medicine the physiology of relief, whether relief of pain or relief of suffering.

The principles of prescriptive music are taught in a lengthy course, but some basics are provided here. Most “vigils” begin with silence, move toward synchronization, and end in or near entrainment. Without the uses of additional medications, many patients experience marked pain relief as evidenced by: decreased pulse rate and heart beat; stabilized breathing patterns; change in body temperature; deep restorative sleep; emotional, mental or spiritual release; profound relaxation and decreased requests for even opioid derivative pharmaceuticals. There is a parallel to the expanded consciousness that can be experienced in natural childbirth. The music thus delivered helps people shift consciousness, begin the process of unbinding, and eventually, “let go” of that which binds them to time and body. Struggle can dissolve through real inner work, and transitus can occur supported by a medicine of peace.

Last updated January 2022

This text was excerpted from Transitus: A Blessed Death in the Modern World (St Dunstan’s Press 1st edition 2000 and 2nd edition 2005); “The Chalice of Repose Project’s Music-Thanatology: History and Praxis” in Music and Medicine: Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 128 – 144; and the forthcoming Luminous Wound series (Angelico Press 2022). All are © Therese Schroeder-Sheker; all rights reserved.

This vigil information continues on What is Music-Thanatology?

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