By Dennis Bubert, Trombonist of the Fort Worth Symphony, March 3, 2016.
Why the arts? Or, more specifically, given all of the ink spilled over our ongoing contract negotiations, why do the arts matter, here, now, in Fort Worth, Texas?
After all, the arts are expensive, unwieldy to manage, and unlike the whimsies of popular culture, demand discernment and aesthetic engagement from the audience. We’re repeatedly told that audiences for symphonic music are disappearing, there’s an insurmountable competition from other entertainments, and that our increasingly visual society is staying home from the concert hall.
As someone who has practiced the art of orchestral playing as a livelihood for close to four decades, I can attest that none of these claims are new, and some of them simply may not be true.
In some ways, the state of the arts has never been stronger. This February, some 28,000 Texas music students and educators convened in San Antonio for the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual conference. In the coming weeks, several thousands of those students will audition for entrance into music programs at Texas colleges and universities, where the arts are alive and well, if not thriving. On the campus where I teach, some two thousand of the 35,000 students enrolled are pursuing degrees in the fine arts. Often despite their parents’ wishes, their friends’ advice, economic realities, and all common sense, these young people are investing their time, money, and lives in the pursuit of communicating the human condition through their individual disciplines. Whether they express themselves through sound, movement, letters, the dramatic portrayal of human emotion or the visual arrangement of line, color and spatial weight, they are committing their efforts and resources to immersing themselves in the interpretation of what it truly means to be human, to think and to feel. In so doing, their awareness becomes sensitized to subtleties, to nuance, and to the ambiguity of life. They learn to see life in subtly different shades of grays rather than the black and whites the absolutists of this world propose as the only possible choices. Through the travails of their education, they see life as a process, an opportunity for growth, awareness and acceptance.
Ultimately, they gradually come to believe that learning is a process that is never completed, and that their own growth is dependent on their continued pursuit of their art, whatever their endeavor. How could I hope to surround myself with better people?
And it’s not just the performers and practitioners who hear the siren call of a personal muse. I’ve met hundreds of our FWSO patrons in recent years, and their stories have been a remarkable accounting of how much the orchestra means to them, and the extraordinary degree to which symphonic music matters in their lives.I met a couple that have been season ticket holders since 1981, and during that time have not missed a single subscription concert.
Another couple, which described themselves as “faithful Fort Worth Symphony concert goers,” routinely drive from their home in Kansas City to attend concerts.
And perhaps my favorite encounter: a woman who had been a life long season ticket holder to the Boston Symphony before her move to Fort Worth several years ago told me that she was worried about what kind of offerings she might find on the classical music front upon her arrival in Texas, a concern shared aloud by her friends and family in Boston. “Now,” she told me, “I can’t wait for them to visit me so that I can take them to hear my orchestra!”
These remarks, and the hundreds heard by my colleagues during our exchanges with FWSO patrons, as well as countless supportive letters,
e-mails, and Facebook postings, have been not only a much needed boost for the orchestra, but a real dose of a reality that is all too often ignored, refuted, or otherwise denied. And that is this: what we do matters, it matters to a great many people, and it apparently matters a great deal to them.
That the arts in general have always struggled with funding is old news; the current message seems to be that there is a new reality in which the arts have declining value and perhaps less validity, and that as musicians we are not only somehow to blame, but must be first in line to pay the price for what some clearly want us to see as the inevitable decline and subsequent failure of the American symphony orchestra.
Don’t believe it. And don’t try to sell that idea to the thousands of patrons who have expressed their support for the orchestra over the past several months, or those who filled Bass Hall last week to hear Joshua Bell at the Symphony’s gala. Or the 40,000 school children we play for each season, or their teachers, or the couple who drive from Kansas City to hear concerts, or the woman from Boston who has found a new orchestra of which to be a proud patron.
I know that the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will, in the coming months, continue to do that to which they have given their lives and dedicated their careers: bring great scores to life, and create transcendent moments for our audiences, who both appreciate and need those experiences in their own lives.
Read this article and more on the Newsletter of the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony.
Manchester Camerata orchestra is pioneering music projects in care homes; now academics are to study whether the sessions do more than just entertain participants.
By Rachel Pugh, February 29, 2016
Sheer embarrassment was dementia care worker Lynda Kelly’s overwhelming emotion the first time she sat in on a Manchester Camerataorchestra music therapy session at the residential home where she works; but the lasting change she saw in the residents in response to the musicians was so great that she is now running weekly improvisation sessions at the home.
Kelly, the activities coordinator for Acacia Lodge – a 60-bed residential home in New Moston, Manchester – reports seeing a mute female resident with advanced Alzheimer’s sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot at top volume with all the words in one of the first Camerata sessions. Two other former non-speakers now communicate with staff as though they had never stopped and many more display greater confidence, increased activity levels and more cooperation with their carers.
“The first music session I went to, I did not know where to put myself with embarrassment – I was not used to seeing people sing and express themselves like that,” says Kelly, who has since then been involved in three music and dementia projects with the chamber orchestra over the past three years, including a 10-week course for Acacia Lodge residents. “But the impact has been amazing and I realised within two weeks that music was getting to them in a completely different way.”
Manchester Camerata orchestra’s Music in Mind (MIM) projects, which involved 7,200 people in care homes and community projects across Greater Manchester last year, have had such dramatic effects on participants that academics at Manchester and Lancaster universities are backing a research student to create the world’s first in-the-moment, multi-sensory assessment tool to quantify that effect.
Manchester Camerata’s head of educational outreach, Nick Ponsillo, says: “This is all about helping people with dementia to communicate and to feel part of the community, but we need to know that we are really getting to the guts of a patient’s experience.”
The Camerata – whose reputation with audiences is built on concerts of Mozart and Beethoven in venues such as the Bridgewater Hall – now hosts Manchester University PhD student psychologist Robyn Dowlen to carry out research in collaboration with Lancaster University. She is attempting to measure the effect of music on people who may not be able to communicate it in words.
This is about coming up with the proof that there is more to music in a dementia context than just entertainment. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there will be 1 million people with dementia in the UK by 2025 and one in six people over the age of 80 currently have it. Alzheimer’s is a massive health and social care challenge to which management approaches are needed in a cash-strapped world.
Camerata’s projects – led by a professional music therapist and specially-trained musicians from the orchestra – involve working directly with patients with degenerative brain disease and their carers. It is about encouraging them to sing, play instruments and create music – and even to perform in public, in sessions before Camerata concerts.
Dowlen’s supervisor, Prof John Keady, who leads the dementia and ageing research team at Manchester University, is excited about the MIM projects, which he sees as confirming his view of dementia as a loss of self and social identity, rather than the more common view of it as a loss of creative and cognitive skills.
He hopes that Dowlen will be able to produce a means of measuring an individual’s experience of connection, so that the circumstances can be reproduced when people engage in other activities.
Evaluation of MIM projects in Rochdale and Tameside by New Economy paints a consistent picture of better communication, happier and more cooperative patients, and even suggests that music participation may lead to a reduction in the amount of NHS treatments and anti-psychotic medication required. Numbers are small, but it is an area researchers want to investigate.
Keady is even asking himself whether the right kind of music projects actually cut the cost of dementia care.
Read the entire story at theguardian.com.