Live Longer By Putting The Arts Into Your Life

I have long been a proponent of art, music, museums, theatre, and film.  Such parts of life not only allow us to better understand ourselves but also lift the sails of our soul.  The first opera I attended was in Madison and it had a profound impact on me, to the point that from then on each year is planned so the symphony, art openings, and museums are placed on the agenda.  Life is enhanced with such outstanding experiences.

Now there is data to show the positive impact these parts of life have on the overall health of people.  

Numerous studies have shown that art and music can help soothe chronic pain, stave off symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and accelerate brain development in young children.

Now, there is evidence that simply being exposed to the arts may help people live longer.

Researchers in London who followed thousands of people 50 and older over a 14-year period discovered that those who went to a museum or attended a concert just once or twice a year were 14 percent less likely to die during that period than those who didn’t.

The chances of living longer only went up the more frequently people engaged with the arts, according to the study, which was published this month in The BMJ, formerly The British Medical Journal. People who went to a museum or the theater once a month or even every few months had a 31 percent reduced risk of dying in that period, according to the study.

Many studies have examined the positive effects of the arts on older people.

Americans over 55 who did not create art or go to concerts, museums or plays reported higher rates of hypertension and cognitive decline than those who did, according to a study of nearly 1,500 participants released by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017.

Similar studies have shown the benefits of exposing children and adolescents to art.

University of Arkansas researchers found that children who were taken on field trips to museums performed better in school and scored higher on standardized tests than those whose schools did not take students on field trips.

The London study is believed to be the first comprehensive examination of the effects of art on mortality, Professor Steptoe said.

From 2004 to 2005, researchers collected data from 6,710 people who responded to questionnaires about how often they went to concerts, museums, galleries, the theater or the opera. 

“Too often, the arts are seen as this frill, but they really do play an essential role in our lives,” Ms. Hitchens said. “Now we have a study telling us it helps us live longer. It’s just yet the latest example of how powerful the arts are.”

Advocates said the study was also a reminder of how critical it is for the arts to be more accessible to Americans of all incomes.

I think it most important for schools to make efforts at providing access to the arts for students, who may not otherwise in the path of their lives, have such an opportunity.  Especially in rural school districts where funds and opportunities are more restricted.  

I grew up in a rural part of Wisconsin and know such trips to Madison and Minneapolis to experience plays and go to museums made a deep impression on me.  The world was so much larger, and the energy of places far from my hometown so powerful, that in time all that helped to pull me into adulthood.  The connection of a large orchestra or the paintings and sculptures in a museum needs to be experienced first hand.  There is no better time to make such introductions than in childhood.

If done the money spent on making it happen will allow for a lifetime of benefits.

‘Fake Music’ From Bach Played By The Madison Symphony Orchestra?

With the under-educated in the nation continually amusing the rest of us with their ‘fake news’ twaddle comes a bit of humor tonight from the first show of this season’s Madison Symphony Orchestra.  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor was presented this evening as the first piece.  But it was the program notes for this performance which made for some laughter given the nature of some in the land who have problems with facts.

The program read…..

The original date of this work is uncertain, and there are in fact some doubts about whether or not this is in fact an authentic work by Bach. Stokowski’s orchestration dates from 1926, and he conducted it for the first time in Philadelphia on February 8, 1926.

Bach was known in his day primarily as one of Germany’s great organists—as a keyboard composer and a powerful improviser. It is ironic then, that there is some doubt that the organ work by Bach that nearly everyone knows—the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor heard here—is in fact by Bach. A little background… There is no original copy of the work in Bach’s handwriting, and the earliest version was copied by another organist, probably after Bach’s death. This in itself is hardly unusual—most of Bach’s keyboard music survives in copies by his sons or other musicians. Most biographers have assumed that this bravura work was one the showy pieces a very young Bach wrote for his first important professional position, as church organist in Arnstadt, 1703-06. However, since the 1980s others have challenged the attribution of the work to Bach, noting that there are some technical crudities and other details that are inconsistent with Bach’s undisputedly authentic works—even suggesting that this later copy was an organ arrangement of a violin work. Biographers such as Christoph Wolff have countered that some of the unusual features in the work may in fact have been ingenious adaptations to the limitations of the organ Bach used at Arnstadt.

Why I Should Not Second Guess A Composer

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This weekend it all began anew with the opening of the season for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.  The main draw was Gustav Holst’s The Planets.  To say it was spectacular would be appropriate if the word was then underlined ten times in bright red ink.  A massive orchestra with chairs placed tightly to allow for a powerful performance–even the tall pipes required a stepladder to play.  With just small LED lights on the stands so the music sheets could be seen the main stage lights went off for a 50 minute film using images from various sources including the Hubble which was projected on a huge screen which was hung over the pipes for the organ—which was also played.

As I watched this all play out a most unusual and secondary show took place.  James and I always sit on the second mezzanine balcony so from there the images from the conductor was most artistic.  With all the lights out and only a very dimmed floodlight on the conductor from above and off to his left it then created his shadow on the stage floor of his arms moving along with his back and forth movements.  It was akin to how Alfred Hitchcock used shadows in his films—it was simply art all by itself apart from what I was hearing.

At the ending of The Planets I thought—(I am always choreographing things in my head) the chorus should have small lights that resembled stars and walked out from various points among the audience.  Instead they were off stage with only a sliding type door opened to allow for their voices to be added to the show.  I really thought the way they performed was really lacking volume and presentation.  But then I got home and as usual James and I started talking about the performance and he located online the following which blew my idea apart.

“Neptune” was one of the first pieces of orchestral music to have a fade-out ending, although several composers (including Joseph Haydn in the finale of his Farewell Symphony) had achieved a similar effect by different means. Holst stipulates that the women’s choruses are “to be placed in an adjoining room, the door of which is to be left open until the last bar of the piece, when it is to be slowly and silently closed”, and that the final bar (scored for choruses alone) is “to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance”. Although commonplace today, the effect bewitched audiences in the era before widespread recorded sound—after the initial 1918 run-through, Holst’s daughter Imogen (in addition to watching the charwomen dancing in the aisles during “Jupiter”) remarked that the ending was “unforgettable, with its hidden chorus of women’s voices growing fainter and fainter… until the imagination knew no difference between sound and silence”.

The less I know means the more I need to learn.  And so it goes.

It was reported that all three performances were sold out this weekend.  Overture Hall has over 2,200 seats.    Madison can be proud for having such a place where wonderful music and memories are created.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich Plays Stradivarius Dating To 1723 At Madison Symphony Orchestra

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Image from Google of Violinist Augustin Hadelich.

Last night was one very amazing time for James and myself.  It is not everyday that someone plays a nearly 400-year old Stradivarius violin in Madison, or that we get to watch and be dazzled.

However, when Violinist Augustin Hadelich took center stage with the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center he brought with him a violin known as the “Ex-Kiesewetter,” which was crafted when King Louis XV of France, King George II of Britain, King Phillip V of Spain, and Czar Peter II of Russia were in power.   There was no way not to just sit back and be awed.  Since I prefer box seats as it allows more leg room and far fewer reasons to feel claustrophobic we had a fantastic view of the show.

The backstory to Hadelich’s life is one for the movies.  He was born in 1984, but at age 15 was badly burned when tractor fuel caught fire on his parents’ farm in Italy. The burns covered the upper half of his body, including his arms, and a doctor told him he would probably never play the violin again.  He persevered and miraculously bounced back and is now considered one of the world’s foremost young violinists.  Hadelich was poised and in utter control of his instrument Saturday night.  The crowd stood and roared approval as he took several bows for more than deserved ovations.

The Stradivarius violin that was played flawlessly last evening has a history, and at one time must have made for high tension, as it was……well…….read onward dear readers.

In 2006, the Stradivari Society brokered an agreement between Clement and Karen Arrison, current owners of the Kiesewetter, and a Grammy-nominated Russian violinist, Philippe Quint. Stipulated in the contract, Quint is to retain possession of the violin for one year in exchange for its US$6,000 insurance premium, the performance of three private recitals for the Arrisons, and regular inspections by The Society’s curators. Its latest valuation was US$4 million. The contract was renewed for a second year in May 2007.

On 20 April 2008, Quint accidentally left the Kiesewetter in the back of a taxicab in New York City. After numerous phone calls, the violin was found and returned to Quint the next day. The cabdriver, Mohamed Khalil, was presented with a medallion by the City of Newark, the highest honour awarded by the city.

Since August 2010, Augustin Hadelich has been playing the Kiesewetter on extended loan from the Arrisons through The Stradivari Society.