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Pauline Lerner

Healing Powers

June 1, 2010 at 1:32 AM

Migraines are truly pains from h_ll.  When I have a full blown migraine, an event which happens all too often, no medication helps me.  I fall asleep, often for a day or two, and that is the only way I get any relief from the pain.

While the migraine is building, I try to talk myself out of it.  At this time, I become very sound sensitive, as many people with severe headaches do.  Teaching a violin lesson can be very difficult.  The sound can be physically painful.  However, I have found that the reverse is often true.  Very gentle, calming music, but not the kind that is mental pablum, can help for a while.  Listening to Andras Schiff play Bach relaxes me just enough to take the edge off of the pain in the early stages of a migraine.  I have a lot of recordings of Schiff playing Bach, and they have given me many hours of pain relief over the years.  When I can no longer tolerate Schiff playing Bach, I just give up and go to bed.

I was in my prodromal (before the event) stage of a migraine last week, and I was fooling around at my computer.  One of my favorite ways of wasting time is to go to Youtube, listen to something I'm interested in, and then follow links, and that's just what I did.  A small miracle happened because of the music.  I put my arms and my head down on my desk, and just let go.  I could feel the muscle tension draining out of my whole body.  I had been experiencing  pain bracing, unknowingly, as many people do when they're in pain.  All or most of the body's skeletal muscles get tense in anticipation of the pain.  Of course this is counterproductive, but it happens anyway.  If I can let go of my muscle tension, I feel better.  My yoga teacher has advised me to relax into the pain, but I haven't been able to do it, probably because it requires an act of will.  The music had disarmed my muscle tension and given me some relief from the pain.  I was so grateful, and I wanted to be able to listen to that music again.  I was not capable of complex thinking, but I wrote down a few names of the music I had been listening to:  Kempff, Barenboim, and Beethoven sonatas.

A few days later, when my migraine was almost gone and I could think again, I tracked down the music which had helped me so much.  It was Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven piano sonatas.  Even a well known sonata sounds so different and so exquisite when he plays it.  Here he plays the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.


Barenboim performed the complete cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas in Berlin in 1998, and they were all recorded and released on both CD and DVD.  The DVD collection features a bonus of six masterclasses taught by Barenboim.  The CDs are currently sold as a collector's set of 9 CDs, and after searching the Web and comparing prices, I bought the complete collection from a seller associated with for $37.  What an amazing bargain!  I listen to them frequently now, with or without a headache.  I copied them all to my computer, and I often listen to the entire collection for hours.  When I hear something I especially like, I check to see what it is.  I've found that most of my favorites have verbal names, not just the best known ones, such as the Moonlight, the Apassionata, the Pathetique, and Les Adieux, but also the Waldstein, the Tempest, the Hammerklavier, the Quasi Una Fantasia, the A Therese, and others.

The twists and turns of fate are often strange.  My life has been enriched forever with music that gave me solace when I had a migraine. 

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 3:37 AM

 Oh my goodness, that's dramatic pain, and healing! You so have my sympathies - I don't get migraines and I'm grateful for that. I do get stomach pains, however, and I feel myself "bracing for the pain," like you said. How lovely that music was able to ward off your pain.

Beautiful piece of music, too. Thanks for including it. Fun to listen to it as I was reading your blog.

From Julian Stokes
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 7:17 AM

Thank you so much for pointing the way to this fantastic piece of music. I have it on CD, played by someone else and to be honest with the moonlight sonata, I'd only ever had time for the first part and the third. The second, I'd always skipped. But DB plays it so sublimely.

Off to amazon to get it for myself right away - I want it now!

From elise stanley
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 8:42 AM

As a previous migraine sufferer I truly feel your pain.  I had them from childhood until my early 20s when (thank goodness) they gradually went away.  It is a pain that can not be described - the only way I have found to communicates its intensity is that it was worse than having my teeth drilled and filled without anaesthetic. 

There have been amazing advances in treatment of migraine of late - have you had yours reevaluated recently?  Perhaps there is a medication that would work ...  

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 3:46 PM

 After reading this a second time today, I realized, to my delight, that I have, in my iTunes library, a multi-CD collection of Beethoven piano sonatas. No, not Barenboim, unfortunately, but Richard Goode. Almost 9 hours of it (are there 32 sonatas, or is that just this collection?).

Thanks, Pauline, for serving as reminder that this delicious music is right under my nose! : )

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 6:32 PM

Hi, so true that music helps!  I know another type of striking pain which is in the most terrible "natural" gift one could have and music helps for this as well...

Good luck to find a solution to these migraines!


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 6:46 PM

Elise, I've been to a neurologist recently and tried all the anti-migraine, pain relief drugs, but I haven't gotten any relief.  When I started seeing this neurologist, she asked me how many days in a 30 day period I have headaches, and I said "20."  I've been able to decrease that slightly by giving up chocolate and caffeine, two of my favorite foods.  That's a measure of my desperation.  There are some medications which may have preventative effects, and I may try one of those.  Thanks for your sympathy and suggestion.

Terez, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas.  I'm glad you have recordings of all of them.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 2, 2010 at 1:44 PM

 >When I started seeing this neurologist, she asked me how many days in a 30 day period I have headaches, and I said "20."

My husband is a lifelong headache sufferer. Not migraines, fortunately, but his comment is "it's not whether I have a headache today, it's how bad/mild it is." Poor guy. My sister also suffered this for many years. She doesn't talk about it anymore, but it's probably that she's learned to manage the pain versus the pain fully going away. I know she's careful about what she eats. And my husband tries to avoid alcohol b/c it's a trigger.

On the Beethoven sonatas - I notice my collection doesn't have #5, 6, 11 and 12. Wonder if that was just the choice of the CD producer to leave those out. And the sonatas are grouped in an odd fashion, 85% chronologically, but a few of them tucked in strangely (maybe to squeeze the right amount onto one disk). It was a library CD so I don't have the jacket notes to look at. I always find the jacket notes are much more pertinent/interesting after the listener has really dug in and listened to the CD many times over. Then the notes become as engrossing as a novel.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 4, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Terez, tell your husband that he has my sympathy.  I've had a couple of periods of years with intense, continuous pain, and it's really awful.  Chronic pain is more difficult to treat medically and to tolerate psychologically than acute pain.  Most people just don't believe that you can always be in pain. 

I miss the liner notes on LPs.  I learned a lot about music from reading them.  A disadvantage of downloading mp3s is that you don't get the liner notes that come with CDs..


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