Last night I had the chance to attend “The Power Of Music Awards” benefiting Beth Abraham’s Institute for Music and Neurologic Function… which is a fancy way of saying music therapy. The night was a wonderful event honoring an old friend on his 90th Birthday – Henry Z. Steinway of Steinway and Sons – and Arnold Goldstein the Institute’s founder.
While being regaled with testimony and performances by Billy Taylor, Bruce Hornsby, Lorin Hollander and Moby a number of recent stories began to converge in my head. While the power of music was the theme for this event – beginning to understand the true power of music, in a much broader framework will be of value to all of us.
We get hit with comments, articles, claims, research and stories about music all the time. Often focusing on one aspect of the role of music on one aspect of our society. Time magazine recently featured a story on music therapy. The Institute is full of wonderful compelling stories of people who have benefited from the use of music as a therapeutic treatment. We have heard for the past decade about the power of music on learning and spatial reasoning abilities. Last week a new study from Stanford added on more puzzle piece linking music to the development of language skills. There is now a movement in the music field that is focusing on the wellness aspect of music and “recreational” music making (positioned as different from therapeutic music making)
I recently had the chance to hear Dr. Gene Cohen speak at the ArtsAlive Conference about his recent work, which has been receiving a great deal of interest. The short version of his work is this:

As part of the research project, titled “The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults,” a group of seniors averaging 80 years in age took part in chorale programs at The Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C. beginning in December, 2001. After two years of measurement compared to a control group of similar individuals, the music participants:
Reported better health and fewer falls
Showed a slower rate of increase in doctor visits than non-participants
Increased medication usage at a significantly lower rate than non-participants
Showed greater improvements in depression, loneliness and morale
Increased social interaction, while non-participants decreased interaction
Also known as the “Creativity and Aging” study, the project is currently assessing the same factors in a second group involved in visual arts, theater, writing and jewelry-making at the Brooklyn, N.Y. center Elders Share the Arts, and in a third group working with textiles, painting, mask-making, Chinese brush painting and poetry at the Center for Elders and Youth in the Arts in San Francisco.
“What’s significant is that the music-making seniors actually showed significant improvement in categories such as falls, social interaction and overall health, where we might have expected only to slow the decline in these areas,” Dr. Cohen indicates.

The folks at the International Foundation for Music Research (one of the lead funders of this study) provided me with the chance to speak with Dr. Cohen earlier this month regarding the long-range impact of his findings. I will be posting an article devoted to his work in the next few days. I will tell you now the implications of his study are extraordinary!
In the mean time it is clear that the power of music is influencing all levels of our society. What we have not been able to do as a community is articulate the complete benefits of music AS THEY ARE KNOWN TODAY. Sounds like a new project for someone… any volunteers?
In the mean time, as we learn more about the physical, social, emotional, and educational impact that music has on our everyday lives… how is it that as a society we can justify denying an education that includes music to our children.
Doesn’t make sense… does it?

One Response

  1. As one of the few (perhaps only) Elder Rappers, I certainly agree that music is an important part of an older person’s life. Music education clearly need not be restricted to the young; we all need to learn new things throughout life.

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