The healing power of music: Symphony for a longer life

Recreational music making replaces tension with relaxation

This was one of the last unpublished articles of the veteran editor Rex de Silva who passed away on November 16. When he began journalism in the 1960s Rex began with pop music. Later he evolved into the higher dimensions of music therapy, especially for those who are lonely and the elderly

Clavinova Connection is also enjoyed at retirement communities building social interaction. Pic courtesy

“If music be the food of Life, play on” is what William Shakespeare wrote while reflecting on his creative thoughts about music’s essential need for humankind. The sound of music is as old as the universe itself. It will continue to be with us forever as it helps fine tune our harmony of life.

Music the universal language of the world transcends boundaries and brings people together. It is the food of love, heals body and soul and stirs myriads of emotions from within.

We use music to communicate. It could change the emotional and physical status of people, making them good, bad or sad. When mood changes occur, behavior patterns are established. No wonder people use cliché’s like hitting the right chord.

Taking a cue from the great Bard, Dr. Barry Bittman is taking music to higher notes with a symphony that makes people live longer and happier with a sound mind and sound body.

Dr. Bittman a New Age Renaissance man is the innovative designer of the Clavinova Connection using the concept of what is described as Recreational Music Making. This revolutionary system is already making waves in the United States.

Dr. Barry Bittman is a neurologist, CEO of Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director, inventor and Senior Vice-President-Chief Population Health Officer Highmark Allegheny Health Network Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA. He spoke to us at length about Clavinova Connection while explaining all about Recreational Music- Making (RMM) and the future it holds for the world.

Dr. Bittman has pioneered a new paradigm for treating the “whole person.” His approach has been featured in numerous leading publications throughout the world, including USA Today, Business Week, Time, Prevention, Discover, O (Oprah Magazine), and New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post and numerous other leading publications.

In the traditional manner, to master an instrument, it is necessary to undergo training for many years. Perhaps at the young age of five, you are sent for music lessons, you grow up with a desire to pursue a career in music and enroll in a music conservatory.
Mastery or proficiency of music or an instrument does not always produce healthy benefits. On the contrary, it may induce more stress and burnout.

However, the non-traditional style of recreational music-making gives you a sense of artistry and empowerment through the creative spirit. RMM helps strike a healthy lifestyle and its benefits are three-fold: improves quality of life, helps participants be relaxed and respond in positive ways to stress and enhances immune system function.

According to Dr. Barry Bittman, recreational music-making is primarily about creative expression while the instrument itself becomes secondary. It is not about mastery, it’s about camaraderie, nurturing and supporting. He further states that Recreational Music-Making is all about connecting and bringing people together. When you help people go past their perceived obstacles, it helps them reach their potential and stay active and take on a meaningful role.

The beauty of recreational music-making is that it enables people to express something beautiful about themselves. No prior musical experience is necessary. Its philosophy is important; making music is the means to the outcome. Dr. Barry Bittman and a team of researchers from Loma Linda University set out to conduct research and develop the next generation of recreational music-making; Clavinova Connection. The first was Health Rhythms and drum circles.

It is a relief to know that the Clavinova a Yamaha digital piano does not require formal training for mastery. The instrument has 900 different computerized sounds. Participating in Clavinova Connection makes you feel good because it is a confidence builder and you cannot make a mistake. “No one leaves feeling like a failure.” says Dr. Bittman. Group participation is preferred and encouraged.

Dr. Bittman created Clavinova Connection to begin with a set of wellness exercises to harmonize mind, body and soul. You then slip into a comfortable mode and tension is replaced with relaxation and a connection to the inner spirit.

A facilitator serves as a guide to make it easier for the participants and the group gets going. The instrument comes equipped with red and green lights that you follow which guide you through three different levels of music. As one completes the various levels there is a definite sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.

In the United States, Clavinova Connection is used in hospitals and long term care facilities to reduce burnout and improve mood states of healthcare workers. It is also enjoyed at retirement communities building social interaction.

As a remedy to the burgeoning aging population and seeking new and innovative ways to serve older adults and caregivers, the program was introduced to two senior centers through a partnership of a regional aging organization and a conservatory of music in the Midwest. This ground-breaking step of taking Clavinova Connection to senior centers in a multi-setting was a first nationally.

In two years the program experienced unprecedented growth. The Midwest project showed many anecdotal benefits such as feeling good, less stressed, given purpose, family relationships improved and reduced isolation.

However, the study conducted by Dr. Bittman, of the Midwest project showed some interesting scientific data about what happens after older adults engage in Clavinova Connection. According to Bittman even though only a limited number (17) of subjects were in the preliminary evaluation, a statistically significant trend reflecting an attenuation of somatic (meaning bodily pain and distress) complaints has been documented. “This early finding suggests a rather impressive trend toward “feeling better” in older adults participating in Clavinova Connection sessions.” says Bittman.

In 2009, the aging organization and the conservatory in the Midwest are taking Clavinova Connection to the mental retardation, mental health and hospice populations. Bittman will be expanding his research to include these populations and we wait with anticipation his findings.

Dr. Bittman enlightened us on the fact that while Clavinova Connection has made valuable in-roads in the US, recreational music-making can be introduced anywhere in the world. Again, it’s not about the instrument; rather it’s the concept or philosophy.
We discussed if it’s feasible to take RMM to the developing or third world and Bittman described how it was successful in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia and Africa. He said it’s all about taking people back to their roots.

We learned that even using a primitive instrument such as a drum can bring success. By taking people to the most basic level it enables them to see the psychological perspective, takes them back to their sense of value and back to civilization. When this kind of meeting of the minds takes place, sharing of emotions and feelings occur. “People connect trans-culturally” says Dr. Bittman. He is confident of this since he used it in Africa and in Japan. Within 24 hours translators were not required any longer because a sense of coming together transpired.

Perhaps this presents a powerful tool to bring peace and harmony in this day and age of nations rising against nations and world unrest. No one really knows the healing power of music until you’re faced with a tragedy, personal or public and live through its effects.

Dr. Bittman recalled addressing the United Nations immediately after 911 and commented that he would love to see every UN session start with Recreational Music Making. The message here is that music and more importantly recreational music making is a powerful tool, used correctly it does change lives.

Bittman remembers that soon after 911 while sitting in his kitchen at home in Pennsylvania, he watched the prayer services at Madison Square Garden in New York when religious leaders prayed for the families affected by the horrific tragedy. Yet, it wasn’t until Bette Midler got up and sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” did the real outpouring of emotion take place. There was a complete unleashing of tears and emotions. Again, he attributes this to the tremendous power music has to move and heal people.

Finally, Dr. Bittman shared with us that recreational music making is an easier sell with physicians and persons in the medical field due to having scientific data to support his theory. “It is not conjecture, most people come to understand the value of music.” he states.

By providing the proof, he sees no resistance from medical or non-medical masses about the power of recreational music making.

Whether you want to use Clavinova Connection or tailor recreational music making to any culture, using the country’s own musical instruments, it can be done. Dr. Barry Bittman is convinced that we are all hard-wired for music.

The writer Rex’s sister Arlene de Silva is CEO of Global Music & Wellness and has thirty years experience in senior executive management the field of aging in the United States. For more information about Clavinova Connection, HealthRHYTHMS or recreational music making, please contact her at


 2020 ©  Tamir & Jayani. Institut de Música Primordial.