The Sound of Love: An Interview with Bliss Music Therapy Founder, Davida Price
by A.C. Workman
Okay, show of hands — who among us hasn’t, after a really crappy day at the jay-oh-bee, cranked up the radio to full blast, and then let it all loose when “our song” comes on? Right. I thought so. Because on some level, we all—every last one of us—understand that music has this innate, almost magical ability to heal what ails us.
There are a handful of people out there who definitely understand and appreciate the immensely therapeutic nature of music—music therapists. San Diego’s own Davida Price is a stellar example. After receiving extensive training in music, as well as marriage and family therapy, Price chose to intertwine her skills through Bliss Music Therapy, which focuses on helping children and adolescents who have suffered varying degrees of trauma. She uses drums, guitars, ukuleles—just about anything that will make a pretty noise—to reach people who may not be receptive to traditional talk therapy. I connected with her about a year ago, when I contacted her to lend support to a children’s event that I was hosting. After explaining exactly what I was doing and why, not only did Price agree to come and lead a drum circle, she also waived her fee (although I encourage anyone with means to compensate her generously for her services, as I’m sure mama’s got bills to pay). I was deeply moved by her generosity of spirit. So, a year later, when I learned Vision Magazine was doing an issue on everyday heroes, guess who came to mind?
Vision Magazine: First things first. I guess I should start with the obvious, but maybe not-so-obvious question. Why music?
Davida Price: Obviously, music affects everyone on multiple levels, so one can only imagine the possible benefits of using music in health and healing. What’s not so obvious though is that music has been clinically proven to affect the chemistry of the brain and body. Engaging in music-making can improve one’s mood by stimulating the pleasure center of the brain and improve the immune system by stimulating the production of T-cells. It can also be a social experience, stimulating the release of oxytocin in the brain, which encourages bonding between humans, thereby improving relationships (if only every family had a drum circle after dinner!).
VM: You’ve used your music to promote peace with a project called Peace Through Music Uganda. What was that experience like for you and for the children in the program?
DP: That was a very powerful experience. The enthusiasm for learning how to play an instrument spread like wildfire. I’d never seen so many kids wanting so badly to learn how to play an instrument. The program has continued to grow through the tremendous efforts of the Shropshire Music Foundation. Over the past three years, through participation in this ongoing program, children have overcome their trauma (from war or being a child soldier), and have found purpose in their lives.
VM: I know that music therapy has been used to promote healing in autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. What other potential uses are there for music therapy and where do you see the field going in the next few years?
DP: If you think about it, those are all very different populations and each touch on an area where music is effective. For children with autism, music is used to influence behavior and social skills, whereas for individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease, music is used to maintain cognitive and physical functioning (memory recall through lyrics and muscle tone by playing an instrument). With Parkinson’s patients, music is used more for its rhythm to improve and maintain bilateral functioning and gait.
Music therapy is moving quickly in the direction of music neuroscience. Recent bestsellers including This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin, or Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks, both offer the effect music has on the brain to a wider audience. As we learn more about the brain and its functioning, we will be able to apply music more effectively for use in healthcare, including the field of mental health.
VM: Can you tell us about your experience in hosting a community drum circle in San Diego?
DP: It is an awesome experience to bring drum circles out into the community. As humans, rhythm has been a part of our history and experience since the beginning. However, now we mostly get our rhythm fix while out clubbing. Then, after a certain age, we stop. This doesn’t have to be the case. Engaging in music creation is good for the body, mind and spirit. You can see it in the faces of people who participate in these events for the first time; it’s like coming home. In the drum circle that I facilitate (based on the techniques introduced by master drummer, Arthur Hull), everyone is invited to play regardless of experience. These circles are meant to encourage exploration, curiosity, camaraderie, unity, and the community working together to create something bigger than ourselves.
VM: How has helping others through music therapy changed your life?
DP: Being a music therapist has changed my life by giving me the opportunity to relate to other people across all barriers through a medium that gets down to the very essence of our humanity and our spirituality. Just yesterday, a teenaged girl said to me, “That music thing we did — that was the most fun I’ve ever had.” I am honored to be able to be a part of something so simple and so profound. Let’s all sit around and play and sing, it just might be “the best fun” you’ll ever have.
To learn more about Peace Through Music Uganda, check out teachingchildrenpeace.com. $3 of each sale from Davida Price’s debut CD, In Child’s Pose, will go to this cause. CDs are available at CDbaby.com/cd/davidaprice. Come to the next drum circle at Architecture, 3956 30th St in San Diego, February 20 from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Please note that this event is for folks who are 21 and over.