David Ott knows first hand the healing power of music.
The idea for a musical healing ministry came to Ott as he recovered from serious injuries suffered in September 2009. He broke his back in a 14-foot fall into the orchestra pit after the debut of his opera, Widow's Lantern, at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.
Long before that personal trial, Ott realized the power of music to reach the infirmed when his father lay dying of cancer in December 1992.
"On Christmas Eve morning, my dad fell into a coma,” Ott told The Log. “The family crept gently and spoke quietly because ‘they can still hear you', as many believe."
However, following the Christmas Eve service, the choir sang carols outside the bedroom window.
"Dad, who had laid there all day without moving, speaking, or giving any indication of communication at all, formed a tear in his left eye which fell across his cheek. I instantly knew he was still with us and in his own special way was saying good-bye. It was the greatest Christmas gift ever. He died the next morning.”
Ott knew the tear was a sign that music could go where words could not reach.
"Although I did not know it at the time, that bedside episode helped to formulate the concept of music as a source of healing for those in need of spiritual, physical and/or emotional restoration.”
Healing music ministry
From these two events, Ott officially launched The Music for Healing Foundation on Jan. 1, 2013. The Foundation takes classical, sacred and familiar music to those undergoing cancer treatment, kidney dialysis and complications from Parkinson's disease, and those who suffer from mild and advanced stages of dementia.
Ott, principal musician for the foundation, is frequently joined by Amy Bullard, an operatic soprano new to the area and "on loan" from the Belgian Opera Company.
His regular route includes the Magnolia Manor, Superior Residencies, Fort Walton Rehabilitation Center, Belvedere Commons and Emerald Coast Cancer Treatment, as well as playing for a number of individuals in their private residences.
"I must add that I get blessed as much as those for whom I play,” Ott said. "The payback to me far surpasses any financial gain I might get for myself. It is a marvelous ministry that not only impacts the patients, but offers an hour of release time for the caregiver. This is what win-win-win is all about.”
Healing effects of music
Listening to music can provide relief from pain, help the brain to make connections and both raise the emotional level of the depressed while calming the spirit of the agitated.
"These are facts documented by years of research," Ott said. "Of course, this means the music must be selected carefully. I often find myself changing the musical selections on the spot according to the needs of the patient. I also try a bit of humor to engage the patient."
He has witnessed immediate improvements in patients' conditions.
"It may come in the form of patients' smiles, their singing along with the music or increased physical movement. Oftentimes, caregivers remark that after I leave, the infirmed show improvement, if only for a short time. Whenever I return, I am always greeted with excitement. That's a good sign, too."
When Ott formed the Foundation, he thought he would limit his playing to classical and sacred music.
"Now I toss in old jazz standards and familiar children's songs," he said. "I love to challenge them by asking, for instance, how tall is she? Then I play 'Five Foot Two'. As an added bonus, I may ask, 'Just how many inches is she?' It's a fun game, especially with a large group."
As a performer, Ott continues his busy schedule, most recently conducting the Meridian Symphony in Mississippi. He remains active as a pipe organ recitalist and has also formed a piano trio, piano, violin and cello, where he is joined by string players, Destinite Carol Hayes on violin and Chris Tiemeyer, former principal cellist of the American Symphony Orchestra under legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski.
"I will never put my pen down and give up composing,” Ott said. “Composition truly defines who I am as a musician. The healing ministries, the performance activities, along with composition are wonderful musical pieces joined together to form a musical puzzle that defines me. Music for Healing can be defined as a major and important component of my whole musical career."
Composer, conductor, author, music historian, performer and creator of musical programs for Okaloosa County schools and homeschoolers, Ott knows the power of music to heal from his own life and takes that healing music to individuals in need of physical, emotional and/or spiritual restoration.
"I would never have dreamed I would end my career this way. But God had a different plan for me. The Music for Healing Foundation offers a return that pays dividends that touch my soul as much as the music reaches the infirmed."