Two months ago, August 4-6, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival celebrated its 40th anniversary season with an unusual ... and unforgettable conference, Music, the Brain, Medicine and Wellness. The conference was the brainchild of Marc Neikrug, Barrie Cassileth, and Cheryl Willman, which brought together over 100 musicians, music therapists, neuroscientists, physicians and health caregivers to share cutting-edge knowledge about how music heals, impacts brain development, affects language ... and enhances empathy.
Day 1: This day was led by several music neuroscience superstars including Aniruddh Patel (read about him in this NYTimes interview of Ani from a few years ago), Gottfried Schlaug (his website is musicianbrain.com), Laurel Trainor and many others, who shared new insights on Music and Language, Music and Cognition, Music and Behavior, Music and Child Development, to name just a few.
How could these neuroscientific findings apply to daily clinical practice?
That was to be the work of Day 2. But before Day 1 ended, we were treated to a concert of Bach piano concertos performed with string quintet. The choice could not have been better - in Bach there is beauty and emotion found within the careful constructs of counterpoint and harmony. In these lectures, we were getting a glimpse of the elegance and beauty of the human brain as it responds to music.
Day 2: We returned the next morning to an equally inspired day. New knowledge and insights are being revealed by the work of music neuroscientists. If a "Picture is worth 1000 words" then functional MRI and PET scanning is worth a million.
Our new knowledge of music's impact on the brain is being applied to patients living with cancer, Parkinson's, autism, and Alzheimer's. Because music involves so many parts of the brains, including memory and emotion, even people with dementia can be deeply affected...and sometimes transformed...by hearing music.Two of the presenters included this video in their talks.
Last Thursday, Chris and I performed violin/viola duos in a very special concert. and in a very special setting. Produced by Artists for Alzheimers, our audience of about 15 consisted of people living with Alzheimers and their caregivers. The concert took place on the grounds of the Frederick Law Olmstead Historical Site. It was a steamy summer day, but fortunately the impending thunderstorm held off until the music was over.
Sean Caulfield, the ARTZ program director, opened the event by inviting the audience to introduce themselves and to talk about their own personal relationship to music. Many recalled that they had studied music or dance as children and all said they continued to love music.
We had chosen a series of short 2-3 minute dances from the 17th and 18th centuries. I arranged them so there was a tonal relation between them, alternating G major with g minor (adding one work in Bb major to the mix), and varying tempos. We ended with the 1st movement of the Mozart G major duo for violin and viola, and Ashokan Farewell as a fitting encore. The dance element was not lost on the audience, who happily swayed and moved their hands to the music.
The people at ARTZ are most familiar with this phenomenon, but it always touches me deeply. It is this: After our performance --and other arts interventions--the audience comes alive - the people there were more talkative, more engaged, more sociable after the performance. They are not "Patients with Alzheimer's" but music lovers in any audience who happen to be living with Alzheimer's. It is a powerful distinction.
I thought the attendees were particularly grateful for Christopher's performance, appreciating his youth, enthusiasm and energy. They engaged him in conversation for a long time following the performance!
As with other performances I have done for ARTZ, the experience has a personal connection. A member of my own family is living with Alzheimer's and attended--one could see that the music brought back strong musical memories that brought joy.
Remarkable art installation featuring musical instruments, rising church pews, glass mirror stars and music
On Friday July 20, my son Chris and I drove to North Adams to visit the Mass MOCA. A restored/salvaged mill, the large open spaces invite bold art pieces.
When we arrived, we learned that the contemporary music project "Bang on a Can" was performing at 1:30 and that the musicians were friends, Isobel Hagen and Gabe Taubman, both New York violists. They played a work called "Spiccato" (I didn't catch the composer's name) which was written one week ago.The musicians were instructed to stand at least 10 feet apart from each other, and to play on 4 music stands (see below). It was a rhythmic, driving work, with polyrhythms and close harmonies.
Later, when we looked at the score, it turned out that the notes were written on an 8 line staff with no clef or key; shapes and rhythms were suggested and the rest depended on communication between the two musicians! What we heard was a conversation between the two musicians who had been given parameters for the conversation - no two performances would be the same.
Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter – to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way. --Dr. Albert Schweitzer
I've just spent a refreshing and restoring weekend in the Berkshires. My talk on Thursday, July 19 at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge drew 35 people, some of whom were medical professionals, others who were musicians or artists. My reflections on medical musicians and the role of music in healing alternated with movements from Bach's Goldberg Variations which were movingly and beautifully performed by Andy Jennings, Matt Dane and Norman Fischer.
I shared stories and thoughts of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
Start early to instill in your students awareness that they are on this earth to help and serve others--that is as important to pass on to them as knowledge
Following the presentation, I had the opportunity to meet colleagues from the Berkshires, including Dr. Deborah Buccino, a clarinetist/pediatrician who played with the Longwood Symphony during her pediatric training in Boston, and Dr. David Elpern, whose thought-provoking blog is invites the reader to consider the role of the arts and humanities in medicine.
Thanks to Suburban Internal Medicine of Lee for sponsoring the event, First Congregational Church of Stockbridge for hosting, and my deep gratitude to David Anderegg and Kelley DeLorenzo for organizing the event.
In case you're in the Berkshires this week:
Please join me for a reading/performance on Thursday evening at First Congregational Church in Stockbridge, MA to introduce Scales to Scalpels: Doctors who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine.
I'll be sharing some of my thoughts about the many connections between music and healing, from the perspective of the medical musician, caregivers and patients, and will touch a bit on the exciting field of the neuroscience of music.
In the spirit of Albert Schweitzer, who was devoted to Bach, healing, and service, the presentation will include excerpts from Bach's Goldberg Variations especially chosen to augment the remarks and performed by Tanglewood Music Center faculty members Norman Fischer, Matt Dane and Andy Jennings.
I hope you can make it and join in the discussion about music and healing! The evening is free and open to the public.
Booksigning, Bach, and Reading
Thursday July 19 at 7:00 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Stockbridge
4 Main Street
Sponsored by Suburban Internal Medicine
Books provided by The Bookstore in Lenox
Vermont is a beautiful, idyllic place. I visit there every summer to soak in the music from a variety of music festivals, appreciate the art, and revel in the rolling hills (ever notice how each hill is a slightly different shade?).
On the way home from each of these trips, I always make a point to stop in the town of Woodstock for an iced coffee, pay a visit to the jersey cows at Billings Farm and buy a new fish mobile for my pediatric office from the Yankee Bookshop.
But this summer I had a new mission: A friend called last week to tell me that he had purchased Scales to Scalpels at a bookstore in Woodstock. First I stopped at Shiretown Books, across the street. While they did not yet have the book, my visit prompted them to think about stocking it - the saleswoman told me her brother was a jazz pianist at Berklee who would love it.
Then I went across the street to Yankee Bookshop to inquire after the book.They had just SOLD OUT and were placing an order for more!
The conversation on music and healing continues!
Two weeks ago, 400 passionate arts, writers and musicians convened in Detroit to consider the current state of the field of Arts in Healthcare. Some have trained as artists and musicians, others as therapists and social workers, still others as psychologists and physicians. The unifying thread was a dedication and knowledge that the arts are a creative force that augment and enhance healing.
It is impossible to adequately summarize the depth and breadth of the remarkable gathering, which seems to grow in scope, energy and enthusiasm from year to year.
Among the highlights for me were:
~Pianist/psychiatrist Dr. Richard Kogan's presentation on the life, psychology and psychopathology of George Gershwin, which included a full scale performance of Rhapsody in Blue!
~Dr. Sandra Bertman, professor of thanatology and palliative care at Mt. Ida College, introduced us to a series of images that expressed the life cycle of birth and death and led a vibrant discussion on perception and appreciation of art.
I was fortunate to be a part of a 3-person panel with Gail Zarren from Young Audiences of Massachusetts and Tanya Maggi from New England Conservatory that presented "Unforeseen Outcomes: Musical Performers and Pathways to Healing. Together, we explored how musical performances in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and schools changed the way student musicians, teaching artists and musical healthcare providers looked at patients, families and themselves. I spoke of the impact chamber music outreach performances has on medical students, Gail spoke about a remarkable YA program, "Together we can Fly" that brings children from a local public school together with children with disabilities at the Massachusetts Hospital School to create art. Tanya described her program at NEC that opens the eyes of conservatory students to new ways to perform and that "sometimes the best performances with the most impact don't happen on a stage."
The talk was very well attended, and sparked many new conversations on the overlap of music and healing into the fields of medicine and education.
The challenge in each of these settings is to bring education, the arts and healing together and striking the right balance. What a thrill it was to share the table with these two leaders in their f
Tanya Maggi is the director of New England Conservatory’s Community Performances and Partnerships Program, a nationally recognized community outreach program that trains and connects New England Conservatory students with the Boston community. Extensively involved with arts advocacy initiatives across the country and abroad, Ms. Maggi serves on numerous advisory boards and has recently worked on projects with Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, El Sistema USA, and the St. Louis Symphony.
Gail Zarren is a long-standing advocate of the arts and arts education. A senior arts program director, she has developed art programs, workshops and events for prek-12 schools and community organizations throughout Massachusetts. She founded Young Audiences of Massachusetts’ Healing Arts for Kids program that provides teaching artist residencies and performances for physically and emotionally challenged children in hospital schools, hospitals and homeless shelters.
Last night, on a beautiful spring evening, we celebrated the launch of Scales to Scalpels with friends and members of the orchestra with a reading/performance. The site was at Carriage House Violins in Newton, a space generously donated to us by Chris Reuning, an old friend and cellist of the Longwood Symphony. The new space is stunning - a restored mill, with original pinewood floors and beautiful high ceilings. CHV has a 50 seat concert hall where the reading and performance took place
Thanks to Karyn Wang, Nancy Chane and Lisa Barr, there was more than enough sangria and delicious food to go around.
The reading itself included performances of Mozart, Ibert and Elgar played by the characters in the book.
It was so wonderful to share the evening with old friends; Gerald and Aideen Zeitlin were there - now retired, they are the perfect combination of music and medicine. Gerald was an anesthesiologist and Aideen a violin teacher and conductor at the New England Conservatory who taught thousands of children (including my own) to love music.
Writer Robert Viagas drove up from New York to join in the festivities. A prolific writer, Robert has published 17 books for Playbill Magazine. His special talent was to successfully capture the characters of the passionate, fascinating medical musicians that made up the book.
Robert Viagas, Michael Barnett and Lisa Barr
Last week, I gave readings of Scales to Scalpels at two bookstores, the first at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton and the second at The Harvard Coop in Cambridge.
I opened each reading with the Allemande from Bach's G major Suite No. 1 - it was a way for all of us to breathe in harmony for a moment. Not only was this moment calming for those gathered in the audience, it was also calming for me.
I was so touched that many friends came to the reading, including Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program physician Dr. Jim O'Connell. Jim and I go back 20 years, when Longwood Symphony Orchestra played its first Healing Art of Music concert with the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
Next Thursday I'll be giving a lecture at the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School, and I was surprised and happy to see displays about my talk at the Harvard Medical Center Coop and at the Library itself.
What's thrilling about all of this is - it isn't about me, but a new opportunity to further the dialogue about the importance of the
Open Road Media spent 4 days interviewing filming musicians in the Longwood Symphony during preparations for our March 17 performance. Here's their promotional video for the e-book version of Scales to Scalpels
Dr. Lisa M. Wong
I'm a musician and pediatrician, passionate about arts in education and about bringing the community together through music