Music and the Mind

Tonight and tomorrow, to celebrate the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 125th anniversary, becoming one of five American Orchestras to reach that milestone, world renowned Soprano, Renee Fleming is joining the CSO for 2 nearly sold out concerts. (I just checked, and there are limited seats available to both concerts).

As a special treat for Cincinnati, on Wednesday, January 8th, the CSO presented “Music and the Mind: Conversation with Renee Fleming”.  Ms. Fleming hosted the panel comprised of Dr. John M. Tew, Jr. of the UC Health Integrative Medicine, and Dr. Chris J. Tuell of the Lindner Center of HOPE.

In her capacity as the Artistic Advisor to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Ms. Fleming has collaborated with the National Institutes of Health to create the Sound Health: an NIH-Kennedy Center Partnership

And, in September 2019, the NIH granted $20 million to Sound Health over a five-year period for its research into music therapy and neuroscience.

During the presentation, it was fascinating to learn about all of the connections between music and neuroscience.  Studies are showing not just that music helps developing brains, but, can also help create new connections in the brain when there has been trauma—like, people who have had acute brain trauma, dementia, abuse, and PTSD.

Dr. Tew explained that music is actually stored in a different place in the brain than speech, so, patients who may have lost their ability to communicate with words, can still be reached, and still reach out, through music.

Dr. Tuell demonstrated to the audience the social connection that music creates—for the performers and the listeners alike.  Both creating and hearing music helps reduce stress. Music also taps into emotions that might be beyond words.

These are only some of the reasons why music can reach people when other therapies do not.  And, as part of the Sound Health initiatives, there is research being done on how music therapy can help clients who have survived injury, abuse, trauma, or dementia.

And, perhaps even more than that, music facilitates social bonding and a sense of community.  Ms. Fleming shared a story of how she was at a dinner party seated between Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia, both avid opera fans.  But, when the director of NIH brought out his guitar, a historic sing along began which bridged divides.