Communication and Therapy through Chinese Music

Chinese music is used as a form of therapy for elderly nursing home residents.

The Music Confucius Institute recently performed a concert for the residents at Omsorgscenteret Tolleruphøj. For the audience, it was not just a musical experience, but a therapeutic one.

Annette Møller Larsen is a music therapist centred in Frederikssund Municipality. She has been in the music therapy field for over three decades, having worked with people with hearing and vision disabilities, autism, and dementia. In her current role as a music therapist and educator at facilities in Tolleruphøj and Solgården, she works with the elderly.

Although the elderly audience made up of mostly Danes is not familiar with Chinese music, the music itself functions as a means of communication. As Larsen describes the process, ‘Instead of speech, the sounds will make the conversation and it will be universal’. She likens the process to her experiences working with people with autism, saying that it can be difficult for them to accept typical verbal interactions, but ‘if the music is between us, then I can play with them. They will accept that kind of contact.’

 The elderly too have a benefit from listening to music, especially those suffering from dementia, who find clarity in the world of music. Regarding this, Larsen says, ‘this music will open them up and we can get greater involvement from them.’

Music Confucius Institute

This clarity is evident on the faces of the patients as they listened to the musicians from the Music Confucius Institute perform at Omsorgscenteret Tolleruphøj. ‘Today it was really brilliant and I could see that the elderly people were really enjoying themselves’, said Larsen about the concert. The concert featured four traditional Chinese music pieces, as well as four traditional Danish songs with which the audience could sing along, including ‘I Danmark er jeg født’ and ‘Midsommervisen’. She says of hearing these familiar songs on Chinese instruments, the elderly patients think of it as something joyful.

The combination of the familiar tunes with the new music sounds help the elderly open up to the new forms of music. Larsen says that, ‘In Denmark, we have lots of old songs, and [the elderly patients] are really from school age, trained in that.’ According to Larsen, most Danish songs are in the C major scale, which is quite different than the pentatonic scale found in Chinese music.

Larsen has hopes that in addition to the therapeutic benefit, the elderly will learn more about Chinese music. ‘It could be very nice if we could get more knowledge about Chinese music because we don’t know the sound, so it’s new for us.

This autumn, MCI and Omsorgscenteret Tolleruphøj will work on a music therapy project in which Larsen will develop a therapy course using Chinese music and instruments. Chinese culture has a long history of using music to improve health- it is a facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a discipline founded and developed over thousands of years. In addition to the health benefits of music for the elderly – especially those with dementia – it has social value. Chinese culture has a natural inclination towards the elderly, with filial piety being an element of Confucianism, the philosophy from which the Music Confucius Institute takes its name.