Jesse Palidofsky has experienced the healing power of music firsthand.
As a teenager he was depressed, but music gave him a focus and some needed endorphins and dopamine, neurotransmitters that helped with pleasure centers in the brain, he said.
"Well, I would say music saved my life," Palidofsky said.
Palidofsky began songwriting as a self-therapy. He has also received a counseling degree. He has worked with the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and at the Holy Care Hospice Center in Silver Spring. He currently works at Arts for the Aging, a group that works to bring music to older people, in Rockville.
"I realized that music was really powerful in [the hospital] setting," Palidofsky said. "Much more powerful than I had any idea."
All music can be powerful, including the children's song "Old McDonald," which he came to believe is a hymn for children after singing it at Children's National Medical Center, Palidofsky told participants at the Music & Healing: Body, Mind and Soul class in Common Ground on the Hill.
Others in the class also shared their stories with music.
Cheyenne Marlin, an incoming freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said she saw the effects music could have while watching autistic children experience music.
Marlin, 18, took the class because it is relevant to sociology and special education, which she plans to study in school, she said.
But music has also helped Marlin personally.
She found comfort in Carrie Underwood's song "Temporary Home" after her great-grandfather passed, she told the class.
"Music has helped me through a lot of hard times," Marlin said.
Palidofsky introduced the class to "Thank You for this Wondrous Day," a song he wrote.
He played the guitar and harmonica while singing and encouraged the group to participate in the chorus to demonstrate how music can help people.
The class will continue to focus on the participants' personal experiences, in addition to teaching how music affects the brain, Palidofsky said.
Palidofsky also showed the movie "The Music Instinct" to the class, which demonstrated how music affects all different parts of the brain.
Palidofsky also used the example of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords learning to sing before she could talk after experiencing brain damage from a shooting incident. The brain can rewire itself to learn new things and adapt, Palidofsky said.
"The plasticity of the brain is just incredible," Palidofsky said to the class.
He said he believes that it is important to understand how music works in order to understand how it can help heal, he told the class.
Music is more powerful than we know and we would not survive without it, he said.
"Music is food," Palidofsky said.
The class will meet until Friday. Registration for the class closed on July 7.