Music heals. It’s not just an aphorism, but a hard truth based in research in a number of areas. Music healing therapy has been proven to induce relaxation in premature babies, treat pain, anxiety, and depression, assist in the healing of brain injuries and even to ease the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Though the official practice of music healing therapy dates back (at least in scientific literature) to the mid-1900s, it has ancient origins in physiological, sociological and psychological contexts. Any one of us can attest to the deep and important role music plays in our lives, from attaching memories to a certain song or record album to the consolation we received in a moment of sadness by simply dropping the needle (or clicking play) on one of our favorite songs. And who can deny the sense of community one feels when at a concert during a particularly stirring moment, be it classical, rock or rave?
It’s in this healing spirit that musician James Jenkins founded Body & Soul: The Art of Healing, a nonprofit that brings together the many facets of Northeast Florida’s arts community in local healthcare institutions to foster healing and growth. Among the many programs offered by Body & Soul are Arts in Action, which brings music, dance and theater performances to local healing facilities, featuring Q&A sessions with the performers; Room Service, which provides strolling musicians to perform at patients’ bedsides or for small groups in clinical settings; and Children at Play, which brings instruments to children so they can hear and play them with the help of the professional musicians who donate their time and talent.
Folio Weekly recently spoke with Jenkins, who just set out on a three-week European tour with the Boston Symphony, about his role in the organization and the work they’re doing in the local healing community.
Folio Weekly: You perform with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. What’s your position?
James Jenkins: Principal tuba.
When did you establish Body & Soul?
Body & Soul was launched in 2000 through funding from the St. Vincent’s Foundation. The mission is to help to enhance the quality of healthcare through the arts and enrich the arts through service to the community. We do this by helping to tailor Arts in Healthcare programs for partnering institutions.
Who are some of the musicians you send to the infirm?
There is a wide range of musicians and artists who participate in the Body & Soul mission, including Symphony members, prominent music and arts educators, prominent local jazz, folk, Latin and pop artists, along with an occasional international artist such as Wynton Marsalis or the Count Basie Orchestra.
What kind of music do the patients enjoy most?
The artists are encouraged to present their own personal offering. We’ve learned that the patients’ response is positive as long as the presentation of the music is genuine.
What are their reactions to the performances?
Daily we experience everything from extreme joy, strong emotional reactions, even unresponsive patients waking due to the stimulus of the music.
How do you “tabulate” such responses?
Most of the institutions have the volunteer escorts submit reports after each Body & Soul visit.
What is the most important aspect of your work?
Using the Arts to connect with the people in our community in a significant and meaningful way.
What was the most touching interaction between musician and patient you’ve witnessed or documented?
There is no real answer to this question. With unresponsive patients waking, helping patients to communicate in a way that they otherwise can’t, and helping some patients make their transitions to the afterlife – which we all witness on an almost daily basis – there can’t be one most touching instance.