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Art Markman, Ph.D. Headshot

Using a Harmonica as a Weapon for Good

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On Sunday nights, I play in the horn section of the house band for Ted Hall's Blues Jam and Church. Over the course of an evening, we play music with some fantastic Austin musicians who stop by to sit in with the band. It is also a wonderful place for new musicians to get some experience playing with a band.

Along the way, I have had a chance to meet a fascinating group of people. Some of them are full-time musicians making their living through their craft. Others are people who play for fun and enjoy being part of the community.

One of the interesting people I have met is Tom Zoe, who has been learning the harmonica for several years and joins us at Blues Church whenever he can. I am struck by Tom's extraordinary generosity.

Not long ago, he stumbled on a new kind of therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is typically caused by smoking or exposure to smoke, pollution or fumes. It involves a combination of bronchitis and emphysema. People suffering from COPD have a hard time breathing.

It turns out that playing the harmonica can be a great therapy for COPD patients. The repeated pattern of breathing in and out through the instrument can help patients to become aware of their breathing patterns. While this therapy won't cure COPD, it will help patients to breathe more effectively and can significantly improve their quality of life.

After finding out about harmonica therapy for COPD, Tom learned more about it and how to run classes for COPD patients. Then, he embarked on a long and difficult education campaign in order to find a local hospital that would be willing to let him run some classes for COPD patients. He succeeded, and for the past month, he has been running weekly classes for patients. He started with a small group, but the numbers are growing. And the patients are already showing improvement. There is a nice video describing Tom's progress here.

I love stories like this, where an individual -- through sheer force of will -- makes something happen for the good of others. Not only has Tom gotten his class off the ground, but he has organized a group of musicians to play a benefit to raise money for COPD and harmonica therapy.

If you know someone with COPD, introduce them to harmonica therapy. It is a simple and effective way to help them ease their symptoms.

If you're in the Austin area, come see some great local musicians on March 3 and support COPD therapy.

For more by Art Markman, Ph.D., click here.

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