My husband and I happened to be in Minneapolis a month ago just as the Minnesota Orchestra was beginning its 2019-2020 season, and we went to the opening concert. The concert, with music by Rautavaara, Grieg, Carter, and Elgar, opened with The Star-Spangled Banner, and all 1800 people in the audience immediately rose to their feet and began singing. Minnesota has a strong choral tradition, everyone sang at full voice, and the sound of those 1800 voices nearly lifted me off my feet. It was an emotional experience, and even though I didn’t know anyone there, the singing together of the national anthem made me feel part of a larger community. And, in fact, studies show that people who make music together are more likely to cooperate and feel more connected as a group.
The business world has long been aware of “connectedness through music” and has used string quartets as examples of “self-management teams.” Many string quartets supplement their musical performance schedules with presentations to companies and organizations exploring teamwork, problem solving, reliability, trust, discipline, and flexibility within the quartet as an example of how an excellent small team works. You hear the result of that group “connectedness” in the music as they perform. Success depends on an extraordinary level of teamwork. Continue reading
Why study music, cont.
George and Ira Gershwin wrote the famous “I Got Rhythm, I Got Music” in 1930. Little did they know that, over 80 years later, a neuroscientist named Nina Kraus and her colleagues at the Auditory Neuroscience lab (Brainvolts) at Northwestern University would show a connection between rhythm, music — and reading. Before we get to the reading part, let’s digress for a few moments and talk about synchronization and rhythm.
Timing and rhythm
Most of us are able to keep time to a beat. We dance to music, we clap to a beat, we tap our fingers to a catchy tune – even if we’re hearing it in our mind. Synchronizing to a beat is about timing – matching your beat at the exact point in time to the sound of someone else’s beat or to a musical beat. One must precisely match a sound (auditory) with a movement (motor).
Even infants love to move to music. They hear music and their entire bodies begin to move. Infants can’t synchronize exactly because they don’t yet have the muscle control to match the auditory signal, but the twins below are clearly hearing the beat and their bodies want to move to it. The impetus to move to music is universal. Continue reading
I have always been fascinated when I hear an orchestra play without conductor. Interpretation issues aside, how do the musicians stay so expertly in sync through all of the nuances and flexibilities of tempo? A few weeks ago I heard the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in a concert that included the Beethoven Third Symphony. I know the Eroica well, but heard it that night as though for the first time. The thirty-six musicians played without conductor and the performance was electrifying – slightly faster tempos than usual, but with a great deal of flexibility; absolute clarity, making it possible to hear voices one doesn’t always hear; and an emotional intensity that is often missing when a group has played a Beethoven symphony countless numbers of times. Continue reading