About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Every Tuesday the New York Times includes the Science Times section. A recurring column is "Really?" in which a Claim is stated, the Facts examined and then we get the Bottom Line. This week the Claim was "Playing a wind instrument causes respiratory infection." Yikes! The facts state that wind and brass players apparently get more respiratory ailments than others. A recent study from Tufts tested a number of flutes, clarinets, saxophones and trumpets for bacteria and other nasty things. All the instruments had live bacteria and mold. Yuck!

The two examples in the article -- a trombonist and a saxophone player -- both had respiratory problems for long periods of time. These problems went away after the players began either disinfecting, in the case of the trombone, or washing the mouthpiece, in the saxophonist's case. The Bottom Line tells us we should routinely clean our instruments or run the risk of getting sick. It seems pretty obvious, but it's easy to let a lot of time pass before giving the horn a thorough cleaning. I took my horn to our wonderful brass repairman for a cleaning and adjustments. When i picked it up he suggested mildly that it would be good if I rinsed it out now and then. Oops.

For a hilarious story about cleaning a horn, read this blog post by Pip Eastop, a horn player with various groups in London, titled "How not to clean your horn ... "

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Value of Music Lessons

It's the end of the school year and I have been extraordinarily busy between all the end-of-the-year school stuff and a flurry of concerts to play. Hence, the lack of posts.

The Waukegan Symphony is giving the last of its season on May 22. We are playing Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis, Shostakovich's 2nd Piano Concerto, Overture to Prometheus, and Mozart Symphony #40. This is my first time playing the Hindemith and I'm having a blast. The piano concerto is very interesting; my daughter (who is also playing) says that one of the movements is in Fantasia 2000. I love the Mozart, though I'm not playing on it.

In addition, I'm playing with another community orchestra, the North Suburban Symphony on May 15 in a program of opera and musicals featuring two singers. It's a fun program, too, with Carmen, Fledermaus, Barber of Seville, and a selection of popular musicals. Plus, my woodwind quintet is playing at a local event to raise money for charity by selling artwork by local artists. My son has a piece in the sale, a very cool looking mirror depicting some Nordic mythology.

Since I haven't written a post in awhile, I thought I would re-post an article I read in the enjoyable blog Julia's Horn Page. Here it is:

More proof of music’s educational value

I just read the following on Orchestra-L, and I was so happy to read it I decided to post it again here.  The readers’ comments following the article are also particularly insightful:
Hearing the Music, Honing the Mind
Music produces profound and lasting changes in the brain. Schools should add classes, not cut them
By The Editors | October 26, 2010 |
Scientific American Magazine- November 2010 issue
Nearly 20 years ago a small study advanced the notion that listening to Mozart’s *Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major* could boost mental functioning. It was not long before trademarked “Mozart effect” products appealed to neurotic parents aiming to put toddlers on the fast track to the Ivy League. Georgia’s governor even proposed giving every newborn there a classical CD or cassette.
The evidence for Mozart therapy turned out to be flimsy, perhaps nonexistent, although the original study never claimed anything more than a temporary and limited effect. In recent years, however, neuroscientists have examined the benefits of a concerted effort to study and practice music, as opposed to playing a Mozart CD or a computer-based “brain fitness” game once in a while. Advanced monitoring techniques have enabled scientists to see what happens inside your head when you listen to your mother and actually practice the violin for an hour every afternoon. And they have found that music lessons can produce profound and lasting changes that enhance the general ability to learn. These results should disabuse public officials of the idea that music classes are a mere frill, ripe for discarding in the budget crises that constantly beset public schools.
Studies have shown that assiduous instrument training from an early age can help the brain to process sounds better, making it easier to stay focused when absorbing other subjects, from literature to tensor calculus. The musically adept are better able to concentrate on a biology lesson despite the racket in the classroom or, a few years later, to finish a call with a client when a colleague in the next cubicle starts screaming at an underling. They can attend to several things at once in the mental scratch pad called working memory, an essential skill in this era of multitasking.
Discerning subtleties in pitch and timing can also help children or adults in learning a new language. The current craze for high school Mandarin classes furnishes an ideal example. The difference between *m¯a* (a high, level tone) and *mà* (falling tone) represents the difference between “mother” and “scold.” Musicians, studies show, are better than nonmusicians at picking out easily when your *m¯a* is *mà*ing you to practice. These skills may also help the learning disabled improve speech comprehension.
Sadly, fewer schools are giving students an opportunity to learn an instrument. In *Nature Reviews Neuroscience* this summer, Nina Kraus of Northwestern University and Bha­rath Chandrasekaran of the University of Texas at Austin, who research how music affects the brain, point to a disturbing trend of a decline of music education as part of the standard curriculum. A report by the advocacy organization Music for All Foundation found that from 1999 to 2004 the number of students taking music programs in California public schools dropped by 50 percent.
Research of our brains on music leads to the conclusion that music education needs to be preserved—and revamped, as needed, when further insights demonstrate, say, how the concentration mustered to play the clarinet or the oboe can help a problem student focus better in math class. The main reason for playing an instrument, of course, will always be the sheer joy of blowing a horn or banging out chords. But we should also be working to incorporate into the curriculum our new knowledge of music’s beneficial effect on the developing brain. Sustained involvement with an instrument from an early age is an achievable goal even with tight budgets. Music is not just an “extra.”