Music and Health

Nov 1, 2019 | Off the Hook Arts, Staff, WinterFest

We know that music is good for you. Neuroscientists have been studying music’s effect on the brain for some years now and results are coming in, all very positive and interesting.

In a recent longitudinal study, people who acquired music training early in life and maintained musical activities for an extended periods of time (at least 10 years) were measured against adults of the same age who had no musical training;  the musically trained outperformed the control adults in the non-musical cognitive domains of  working memory, verbal fluency, planning and decision-making.

Learning to play music can efficiently build cognitive reserve in advanced age and protect against age-related cognitive decline. A musician’s likelihood of developing dementia or cognitive impairment was shown to be reduced by 64%. So study music seriously while you can!

But we musicians know that music also helps form an imaginative and compassionate human being; music increases empathy  — and participation in chamber music over time instills certain modes of behavior that benefit a person beyond music-making: the ability to collaborate and cooperate with others, to connect emotionally and intellectually as a matter of course, and to value other’s ideas, feelings, and contributions.

Musicians also learn to listen really well; they listen to intonation as well as to harmony, phrasing, articulation, and tone. Multifaceted listening is a critical life skill. And there is more: musicians also learn to respect the composer’s score while bringing their own experience to its interpretation, and they understand that interpretation is about realizing the music’s spirit and substance, not using the music to glorify themselves on stage.

It is a shame that studying music is not a standard part of education for everybody. If everyone played in ensembles when young, perhaps there would be fewer adults in, say, politics, who lack empathy, cannot collaborate, refuse to cooperate, don’t listen, change laws to suit their private agenda, put themselves above others, and certainly are not in tune with reality. 

If they ever did play music, they would change the notes in the score rather than admit they’ve played wrong ones. 

The first violinist in a string quartet wouldn’t fire the second violinist, violist, and cellist because they have different ideas about phrasing. 

We know that music brings people together. Music brings cultures together. Music brings past and future together, as great traditions are passed on and revitalized generation after generation. Music also heals, and that is the focus of Off the Hook Arts Festival in 2020.

At Off the Hook Arts Festival WinterFest and SummerFest 2020, we join musicians around the world in celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Beethoven, who composed much of his most beloved music while completely deaf, understood that music had the capacity to heal. Music kept him going through his suffering and he also used music to help others. When one of his female piano students lost her baby, she went into a trance: she did not speak, cry, or move. No one knew what to do for her, but Beethoven went to her home and, saying nothing to her, improvised at the piano for several hours until the music got to her and she started to weep. 

At Off the Hook Arts, we will bring you music of Beethoven and many other composers, and speakers on music therapy, and music and health, and on the life and work of Beethoven.

©2019 by Bruce Adolphe