Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gene Expression & Happiness(es)

This study by researchers from UCLA's Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and the University of North Carolina looks at how one's happiness can affect gene expression, and they found (in a group of 80 adults) that two different types of happiness generate different profiles of gene expression.

People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being -- the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) -- showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being -- the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities) -- actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.

. . . . "Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive.

"What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion," he said. "Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dr. Andy

Dr. Andy, a.k.a Andrew Mosholder, and I have been musical companions for nearly 20 years.  He played bass and cello on "Mantra Mountain". On Saturdays, about once every six weeks, he makes the drive down from Harpers Ferry and we spend the afternoon playing Renaissance, Baroque, Dylan and things I've written, with him on cello or upright electric bass and me on mostly alto flute, keyboard, guitar and singing.

He also has other gigs, musical and non-musical. Here he is with Chatham Street opening for Dave Mason.

Photo credit: CUphotography

Moving Beyond Anecdotal

Anecdotally, a lot of people feel that making music has therapeutic benefits. This article talks about a new research project at UC San Francisco to see what empirical data there might be to support that idea. 

Over the next four years, a dozen choirs will be created at senior centers around San Francisco. . . . . The project will assess the impact on participants’ cognition, mobility and overall wellbeing during their choral year. The researchers also will examine whether singing in a community choir is a cost-effective way to promote health among culturally diverse older adults.

My interest in music therapy has always centered on the benefits of actually making it yourself as opposed to listening to it. All the neuroscience on how listening to it affects us is tremendously helpful, but in the long run, studies like this one, assuming good data is found, will be much more helpful when advocating for music making and music therapy.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Performance Diary

Last Friday we played at an assisted living facility in Gordonsville and then on Saturday outdoors at Gordonsville's Bicentennial Homecoming picnic. For the indoor performance there was no need for any audio, as it's a small room and we and the audience can all hear everything easily. We played very well, and received what to me was a wonderful compliment from the activity director - that it was the first time she could remember a group holding all the residents' attention for a full hour, that usually people want to start drifting away after about 30 minutes. There was a lot of foot tapping and sort of dancing while seated.

For the outdoor performance there needed to be audio so we could be heard over a fairly large area. This photo taken before we started playing shows the amp on a stand I had halfway facing us so we could all hear one another. The tubas, clarinet, banjo, guitar and vocals all had mics.
The two monitors flat on the group were for the group after us, but just under their speaker on a pole, right behind the blue chair, you can see the other of my amps, which was facing over towards where a lot of the crowd was. After we played I heard that we could be heard over the whole area nicely, without being too loud anywhere. I was also pleased that I didn't produce a single feedback squawk. 

Right in front of me with the guitar you can see a wooden box with the mixer on it, which lets me tweak the audio between, and sometimes during, numbers.

As I've said several times, learning audio is as difficult as learning the horn. Lots of unseen variables, and if you make a mistake it's really noticeable, but if you get it right it's a wonderful thing. We've got one more big outdoor performance this summer and my hope is to set up a situation where it sounds to us and to the audience a lot like being in a small room where everything is clear and distinct, while not being too loud.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nostalgia and Music

Coming across this article on nostalgia and reading the following bit I immediately envisioned a music therapy angle, as inducing nostalgic moods is something music often does.

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Then on the second page of the piece Tierney talks about how the researchers are using music to explore what they see as the mostly positive effects of nostalgia.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Audio Note

The Kenwood Players have already had one outdoor performance this summer, and are looking to have three more. Unless we're on a porch and the crowd is small, I always use some amplification for these events. If nothing else, at least a set of very small speakers used as monitors for my guitar, so everyone in the group can hear me even though I'm in front and facing the audience.

One thing that I find remarkable is that whenever I mention using a little amplification, it's not unusual for the person arranging for the music to get what I can only call righteously angry about past events where a band used so much amplification people were unable to talk to one another. When I talk to friends about this, almost everyone has a horror story of an event being ruined by a too loud band - and years ago I walked out of a Judy Collins concert because the sound was so loud it hurt.

During a period when live music is on the wane, sonically assaulting the audience seems a weird thing to do, but it seems to happen with great frequency. I think one problem (besides the members of loud bands having lost hearing over time and not realizing what they're doing) is the way the main speakers are pointed at the audience, with monitor speakers facing the band. With things set up this way, it's easy for the band to not realize just how loud they are to the audience.

Over time the way I set up has evolved into not distinguishing between speakers for the audience and monitors for the band. I put the speakers a bit behind and to the side of the band and turned at something like a 45 degree angle inward so they work as both monitors for us while also sending some sound out front. That creates the danger of feedback, but I've found that turning the treble down on everything lowers the threshold for that by a lot. And, of course, the precursor to feedback is that nice reverb feeling where you can feel the sound as well as hear it. As long as I keep the sound levels in that range, things work really well.

As to who/what gets a microphone - I have one for vocals and the clarinet gets one so she can play with good tone low in her range and be heard. My acoustic guitar with the onboard pickup gets plugged in, and if it's a large event I put a mic up for the tubas so we can have a nice solid bass line without them having to work for volume. 

Also, I've started using a small dynamic mic on my music stand to pick up the banjo at large events. It's hard to believe, but the one comment I get on the sound system over and over is people coming up afterwards and saying that couldn't hear the banjo. I think the issue is that it's so very directional in its sound - if the drum head is facing you, you hear it, but if it's angled away, you don't.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Yo Yo Ma as Music Therapist

Here's a great story for the 4th of July. Besides everything else he does, Yo Yo Ma spends time helping wounded veterans make music.