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Music Research Highlights the Value of Concerts

With new research on music and the brain, we owe ourselves listening time.

New research on music and the brain is beginning to add layers of understanding with regard to the power of music. From Australia's Deakin University to MIT and Johns Hopkins we are seeing just how and why music is so important and the value of attending concerts.

In the "Psychology of Music," July 29, 2016 researchers found higher subjective well-being (SWB) associated with those who were attending musical events and dancing. "The findings also emphasized the important role of engaging with music in the company of others with regard to SWB, highlighting an interpersonal feature of music."

Citing a paper in Neuro, the Johns Hopkins website pointed out:

"If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory." Johns Hopkins Healthy Aging

As someone who has written about the healing power of music, I often attend recitals at the Boston Atheneaum.* Unlike a grand concert hall, these intimate gatherings set a stage that creates a unique relationship between the musicians and audience.

Recently, two young musicians thrilled audiences in separate concerts: Arseniy Gusev, a Russian composer and pianist, and cellist Elad Kabilio.

Arseniy Gusev Courtesy of Alexey Eliseev
Source: Arseniy Gusev Courtesy of Alexey Eliseev

Arseniy Gusev performed demanding pieces from Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann, Medtner, Ravel, as well as his own Sonata No.1. While just 17 years-of-age, with command of his repertoire and agility at the piano, he appeared to have become one with his music and keyboard. I was particularly taken by "Variations on a theme" from “God Save the Queen,” which shares the same melody as “America – My Country 'Tis of Thee.”

During this time of election year turmoil and vocal turbulence, I found myself singing the words to myself as he played. One could almost envision the eager patriots ready to bring liberty to America. Gusev’s thunderous crescendos gave new meaning and resonance to the words “let freedom ring.” Audience applause could be heard throughout the building.

Elad Kabilio courtesy of Christopher Topher
Source: Elad Kabilio courtesy of Christopher Topher

Israeli cellist Elad Kabilio from MusicTalks, which he founded, clearly embraced both his music and his audience. He explained the secrets of sound, from a single string to notes that dance up the scale. He brought to the audience his ability to inform, uplift, enlighten, and soothe. He explained that when he hears laughter, he knows he has connected. From Bach's "Suite for unaccompanied Cello No. 1 in G Major" to Cassado 's "Suite for Cello Solo," he captivated the audience.

Kabilio has performed at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall as well as collaborating with ballet companies that include the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Based on appreciative applause from the audience, it was clear that Kabilio succeeded in his goal of engaging listeners in an intimate setting. (

As I wrote in an earlier piece: “Music and its relationship to our brain is a relatively new science and yet the Library of Congress: Music and Brain series has already enhanced its concert series with what is defined as “new research at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and music. The podcasts, available online, highlight scientists, scholars, composers, performers, theorists, physicians and psychologists.The Power of Music During Happy Times and Sad Ones

At a Gerontology Society of American Conference with New America Media several years ago, we were introduced to "Alive Inside - a story of Music and Memory"( We saw how even non-verbal dementia patients reacted positively to the music. For those who wonder how music can enliven patients who seem to have disconnected from the world around them, perhaps MIT researchers have the answer:

“Scientists have long wondered if the human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. Now, for the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds."

While there is still rich information about music and the brain to be uncovered, the power of music and its value to our well-being is a gift we might all choose to accept.

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved ( NB: An academic Athenaeum member through the Department of English, Suffolk University, Boston.


Neuron. "Distinct Cortical Pathways for Music and Speech Revealed by Hypothesis-Free Voxel Decomposition." Norman-Haignere, et al. 2015 Dec 16;88(6):1281-96.

To read the following, there are live links at

Give Yourself a Musical Gift of Gratitude | Psychology Today
Asylum Quartet: Reminder of the Arts and Gift-giving | Psychology Today
Resilience: 4 Ways to Move Forward After Time Stands Still | Psychology Today
Music and Art Stir Us in a Tweeting World | Psychology Today
Music, Emotions, and Pleasure Intermingle to Create Joy | Psychology Today

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