Music for a cause: how a happy tune can change your day


With Musicerapy, Jyotika Dhawan takes her love for music to a new level by playing in old-age homes, cancer wards, hospitals, slum schools, and juvenile homes. 

A pianist plays the prelude for the percussionist who builds up the tempo with his tabla. A vocalist hits the high notes, the guitarist finds a rhythm. Soon, the folks in the old-age home join in the timeless melodies with their own versions of the songs and start dancing to the tunes they love.

The woman who is orchestrating the event in the old-age home is Jyotika Dhawan, CEO, Helix HR; Founder, Orion and Musicerapy; and singer, blogger, upcycler, and change agent. Her mission is community service, and her passion music therapy.

“A song can make us feel happy, sad, energetic, or relaxed,” Jyotika says. “Music can have such an impact on a person’s mind-set and is so deeply linked with our moods and our well-being that it should come as no surprise that it is now being used for therapy.”

Music therapy is one of the “expressive” therapies, consisting of a process in which a music therapist uses music and all of its facets — physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual— to help people improve their physical and mental health, release stress, and feel good.

For most people, music is an important part of daily life. Some switch on bhajans or other spiritual songs in the morning, while others turn up a favourite playlist for their workouts. Most people listen to FM in their cars or create their favourite playlists to pump up a party. The music they choose is often linked to their mood.

In active therapy, however, the musician and the receiver actively participate in creating music. This allows people to be creative and expressive through the art of music.

“Receptive therapy takes place in a more relaxed setting where we play music to an audience, who in turn, can listen, meditate or join in. Our group is working more in the receptive space right now,” Jyotika explains.

Her Musicerapy group has people from the age group of 9-70, coming from different cultures and diverse backgrounds. On how she started, Jyotika says, “I have always valued the small things in life. Success had a different meaning for me as I wanted to make a difference in the world. I founded a recruitment company called Helix HR and a foundation called Orion that helps bring more and more people in the fold of community service activities in India.”

Musicerapy was born two-years-ago when she realised that music could be therapy for problems like stress, depression, trauma, disabilities, and diseases.

“Many years ago, I organised a musical evening in the paediatric ward at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital in Delhi. Once our performance was over, I noticed the smiles on the faces of the kids and the stressed parents, and began to think the effect of music as a therapy. Soon, I started scouting for musicians and singers who were keen to do volunteer projects and we started our visits,” she remembers.

The members of her music squad include vocalists, guitarists, pianists, and percussionists. Jyotika is one of the vocalists and they perform twice a month in various places or as and when they are called for performances. They perform at old-age homes, cancer wards, hospitals, slum schools, juvenile homes, and the like. Their performance usually ends with snacks for the audience and some puppet shows.

“I sing old Bollywood songs, but our music squad sings anything from Bollywood old/new to ghazals to Sufi songs,” explains Jyotika. “We sing songs by Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, or ghazals.”

Nothing is as easy as it looks and Jyotika’s mission has its ups and downs too. “Firstly, we need to find people who are passionate about the cause. Also, while playing, we need to sense the mood and interest of the audience and modify our song list accordingly. Sometimes, when we feel people in the audience will be happy singing, we invite them over to sing and we stop singing ourselves,” she says.

Music is now being added to many social service programmes across the world due to its strong and immediate influence over the emotions and its ability to naturally increase “feel good” endorphins.

Jyotika says she became a human resource professional by accident. “I was the only student in XLRI who arrived at the campus with an eight-month old child,” she says. “After 10 years of working with Airtel, I decided to become an entrepreneur and started a placement and coaching company called Helix. Later, my husband Nitin also quit his entrepreneurial ventures and family business to start Orion with me. In all my difficult times, I found that music helped me uncover emotional responses, enhanced my energies and manage my anxiety.”

Orion brings people into the fold of holistic development, community services and societal consciousness. They work on interventions and projects in five Es - Ecology (environment, recycling and upcycling), Economy (slum schools and skills building projects), Epidemiology (malnutrition and lifestyle diseases), Equality (diversity, discrimination and inclusiveness projects) and Empathy (old age sensitisation and other projects).

In the future Jyotika says she will be moving into the arena of active music therapy. “So while Musicerapy will continue, we are now looking to train potential singers and instrumentalists in places like rehabilitation centres, juvenile homes, slums and other places to improve their quality of life through the power of music. I may also go for training by the World Federation of Music Therapy to practise music therapy more effectively.”

“Music,” says Jyotika, “can heal you, connect you, and transcend boundaries. Music gives expression to the feelings that we can’t use through words.”