The Sound of Healing Part 2: The Jingle of Life

Posted by Scott Underwood on 11/10/16 1:22 PM

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As a follow-up to my last blog post, I'll tell a personal story of the use of sound to change the perception of the hospital environment.

hospital.jpgDue to a recurring therapy for a family member, I made a number of long visits to John Muir Medical Center, a full-service hospital in Walnut Creek, California. My wife and I have passed a lot of time there, and every once in awhile we would hear a little bell-like jingle, as if someone's cell phone was ringing. Once we noticed it, we heard it quite a lot, and one time we heard it when we were the only people in sight.

Finally, we asked a friendly caregiver, "Do you hear that? What is that that little jingle we keep hearing?!" Turns out, it was a nursery jingle the hospital played every time a baby was born! 
After that, whenever we heard the bells it was hard not to smile.
This is now one of my favorite memories of a hospital -- it was nice to be reminded that a hospital is not just a place of suffering and capitivity but plays a role in bringing new life into the world. 
Looking around, I see that many other hospitals use this method to celebrate births. At Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, Tennessee, they allow a sibling or family member to push the button to activate the chimes. At the St Charles in Bend, Oregon, the mark both births and deaths with the same sound, to celebrate the whole cycle of life. The Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts made a short video about their chimes.
This reminds me of several related sound and music stories: bells in church towers were first used to signal the time for worship. This is paralleled in Japanese Buddhist temples by the large bonsho bell, and in Muslim regions by the muezzin's call to prayer. The grocery chain Trader Joe's uses coded bell rings to communicate instead of a PA system, and many restaurants and bars use a ship's bell to signal additions to the tip jar and other rare events. 
The musician Brian Eno first conceived his influential album Ambient 1: Music for Airports as a looped installation to make the chaos and noise of a commercial airport more bearable. Muzak was first a product that used music to influence productivity in the office, and background music is now so ubiquitous, from elevators to grocery stores to on-hold music, that we barely register it anymore.
Where have you noticed the use of sound to influence behavior or emotions in public spaces? How might you use sound to communicate something important, uplifting, or entertaining in your organization?

Topics: Reflection & Integration, Empathy & Inspiration