Student-led project investigates healing benefits of live music

A cross-disciplinary group of UCLA students is hoping to find out. Presenting a series of weekly 30-minute concerts, Mindful Music, a new community project featuring some of UCLA’s most talented music students, aims to shed light on how music impacts personal stress levels.

Mindful Music is part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, a program envisioned and funded by philanthropists Terry and Jane Semel. The initiative draws upon UCLA’s world-renowned research and teaching to find new and innovative ways to promote healthy living on the UCLA campus, and shares what is learned with other communities locally and beyond.

Mindful Music performances are held Wednesdays between 12:15-12:45 p.m. Throughout January the weekly concerts will be held in a courtyard outside Cafe Med, located in the Center for Health Sciences (CHS). In February, the concerts will be held in the Powell Library rotunda. In March they will move to the UCLA School of Law.

“The Healthy Campus Initiative aligns very well with what we’re trying to do, which is help people feel emotionally better,” said Sean Dreyer, a second-year medical student who serves as the project’s research director. Dreyer is one of seven student directors working on the project.

The goals of Mindful Music, said program founder Dalida Arakelian, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics and public health last spring, are to lower stress levels; improve listeners’ mood and alleviate anxiety; provide a positive, shared experience among UCLA students, staff, faculty and visitors; and be the basis of a community research project that links music to scientific research.

“We spend a lot of time studying, and we’re very overworked,” said Dreyer, referring to students who are pursuing degrees in medicine, dentistry, nursing and public health. They currently make up a large portion of the audiences attending the CHS-based concerts.

“You always feel that there’s more you can be doing. There’s never that satisfaction that you’re done for the day,” he added.

Second-year medical student Laura Obler has already been to several Mindful Music events. For her, it’s the perfect break in the day, allowing her the freedom to slow down, not think about classes and just enjoy some great free live music with friends.

“I enjoy musical performances, but, given my busy schedule and student budget, it is difficult for me to attend shows regularly,” said Obler. “Mindful Music is a wonderful thing because it brings those performances to me. I get the chance to spend my lunch listening to music performed by talented members of our Bruin community at no cost. By the end of lunch, I feel happier, refreshed and ready to take on my afternoon courses.”

Obler also said that she appreciates the sense of community the noon-hour concerts provide. “There are not many events that bring students, staff, faculty and visitors of CHS together, and this provides the setting for us to get to know each other better.”

To date, the program, which launched at the beginning of fall quarter, has featured classical, jazz and bluegrass groups.

Following each performance, audience members are asked to complete a short six-question stress survey that asks questions about their feelings over the past month and about their mood before and after the musical performance.

“We hope to see lower reported stress on days when we’re there,” said Dreyer, who hopes to start examining the data once he receives about 1,000 surveys or more.

Dreyer said he hopes that the research will help determine the impact that a program like this can have on people and their moods. Should it prove a positive link, he and Arakelian will explore how the program can be expanded across campus and possibly launched by other postsecondary institutions and communities as a low-cost public health intervention program.

Dreyer said the connection between mind and body is a strong one, and that psychology can play an important role in preventing illness and alleviating symptoms.

“Beyond just treating patients, it’s important to address psychological factors that may contribute to physical ailments and the stresses that go along with being sick or having a disease,” said Dreyer. “There have been a lot of studies that have shown that music can have an impact on stress, anxiety and depression — a lot of things related to mood.”

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