Music and Medicine Coexist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Can borrowing techniques from wind instrumentalists help rebuild lung strength?

Vocalists and wind instrumentalists rely on specific techniques, such as circular breathing, to power through long, challenging pieces of music, and to create beautiful sounds in the process. Now, thanks to a new partnership, such techniques may also help patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) regain lung strength.

BWH is teaming up with JazzBoston, a non-profit that promotes and expands access to the city’s jazz scene, to combine music and medicine. Patients who are either recovering from chest and lung operations, or who have chronic pulmonary conditions, will work with JazzBoston master teachers and performers to see whether musical breathing techniques can help them regain lung capacity—and whether traditional pulmonary care techniques could transfer over to the music realm.

“Really, what’s an open question here, and something we’d like to explore, is whether we can learn from each other and maximize our ability to offer patients pulmonary rehabilitation, and on the other side, maybe even improve performance and techniques for professional musicians,” explains Bruce Levy, BWH’s chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

“We feel right at home partnering with the BWH Lung Center, because a spirit of innovation permeates everything the Brigham does, and nothing is more innovative than jazz,” says JazzBoston President Pauline Bilsky. “The Lung Center’s integrated multidisciplinary approach is a lot like a large, diverse jazz ensemble—the most creative, adventurous kind. Every member brings their own story and expertise, and respects the contributions of the others. The result is always something new and very special.”

In addition to finding potential new treatment techniques, the program offers patients a unique form of music therapy, a practice repeatedly shown to hasten recovery times and promote overall well-being. “Some of those concepts we’d like to put to use as well—to inspire, to motivate, and to improve the patients’ lung capacity,” Levy says.

The new partners will also work together to raise money for lung research, and to host events in the community.