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Is music in tune with alternative health care?

Master of Social Work student to present proposal in Toronto

What do you get when you combine music, medicine and social work? A trip to Canada this summer.

That, at least, is the case for USC Master of Social Work student Friday Lilly, who holds the distinction of being the only social work student to be presenting at the third international conference of the International Association for Music & Medicine (IAMM) in Toronto. Along with USC School of Social Work Clinical Professor Murali Nair, Lilly will be presenting a proposal in late June to use traditional Indian music to help relieve anxiety in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The IAMM promotes research, practice and knowledge in the use of music in health care. Lilly and Nair are looking at the role of music and medicine in helping others from their perspective as social workers. This approach is in line with USC’s multidisciplinary science focus, said Nair, whose research interests include alternative health systems.

To be precise, Lilly and Nair will be examining the use of Indian Carnatic music in helping cancer patients. The music has been used for more than 2,000 years as an anxiety-reducing tool in Eastern Ayurvedic medicine, but its Western exposure has been limited.

“Ayurveda recognizes similarities between instruments and the human body,” Lilly said. “Some frequencies that enter the human body cause a chemical release, which in turn allows music to affect and even control human emotions.”

She noted that there are several non-Western studies that support Ayurveda’s positive qualities, but the type of data on which Western science is based doesn’t exist. Her goal is to find such evidence that can be used to verify Ayurveda’s effects and be used going forward in Western health care.

Lilly first became interested in the effects of music on people during her time as an undergraduate at California State University, Long Beach.

Friday Lilly, with husband Charles

MSW student Friday Lilly, with husband Charles, uses Indian Carnatic music to help cancer patients.

“Helping bring music to the masses with the Long Beach Municipal Band and playing with the Long Beach Symphonic Winds are what initially sparked my interest in discovering how music positively influences the surrounding community,” said Lilly, whose husband, Charles Lilly, is a graduate student at the USC Thornton School of Music.

Combining this interest with social work ultimately brought her to USC to seek her MSW. She views the social worker as a “healing instrument that gives a person a chance to discover themselves through their own artistic abilities.”

Lilly’s presence at the conference brings something new to the table. In addition to being the only representative of the social work field at the conference, just one of the association’s original founders has experience in social work.

“It is a great honor not only for our MSW student Friday Lilly, but for our school of social work also,” Nair said. “Our paper is the only one from the social work discipline.”

What separates Lilly’s work and gets her to a conference like the IAMM’s is the fact that it attempts to cross disciplines, bringing two seemingly unrelated fields together to allow one to help the other. She credits Nair’s encouragement in making this research project a reality.

“Dr. Nair has been a mentor in bridging my social work calling and love of the arts,” she said. “His wealth of knowledge on non-Western healing practices and my passion for music have created an exciting research team that I feel honored to contribute to throughout this year.”

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Is music in tune with alternative health care?

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