Mozart’s Violin

Kathy Wittman/Courtesy of the Boston Early Music Festival

Kathy Wittman/Courtesy of the Boston Early Music Festival

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a singular talent whom some believed to be an instrument of divine inspiration. Clearly, no musician conjures more fascination or esteem. Mozart continues to capture our interest more than 250 years following his birth.

I am among those captivated by this man and his art. The largest body of music we have produced at Advanced Brain Technologies is our vast collection of Mozart recordings for The Listening Program®.  Such care went into our Music Director, Richard Lawrence’s arrangements, and the thoughtful expression of the award-winning musicians of the Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble as they performed these inspired compositions under Richard’s watchful eye and discriminating ear.  I can tell you one does not take lightly the adaptation of these masterworks for a new found purpose; to advance the brains of people everywhere through the benefits of new found listening abilities.

Nine years ago I had the good fortune of traveling to Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg, Austria. My travel companions were Richard and his wife Dorothy. We were there for a presentation of our work at a music and science conference in the hills just above the much revered Mozarteum. We spent hours outside of the conference leisurely strolling along the cobblestone streets, visiting quaint shops, and  enjoying the cafes. You can’t help but breathe in the essence of Mozart which permeates the air of this magical town. Standing in his birthplace you can hear ghostly musical notes emanating from a harpsichord as if he were there in that moment, his fingers dancing effortlessly on the keys.

I have many fond memories of Salzburg, and time spent there with dear friends, so believe I should stop here and share what inspired this post before I lose you in this self indulgence of remembrance!

A few days ago NPR ran a segment Playing Mozart— On Mozart’s Violin.  I could not believe my ears as I listened. Someone has been allowed to not only see, but to touch, and gasp… play Mozart’s Violin! Can you imagine what it must be like for a musician to play Mozart’s violin and viola, which are here in the United States for the first time? Well, violinist Amandine Beyer played Mozart’s own violin at Boston’s Jordan Hall last week.  She says she couldn’t help but wonder if she was channeling some special spirit when using Mozart’s fiddle in Boston. “I had all the time this question! But I tried to call this spirit, no? And to say, ‘Are you there?'” Beyer says, laughing. “But I think you can do it with every instrument when you play the music of Mozart.”

Enjoy this segment on NPR’s All Things Considered and tell me. If you could ask Mozart one question. What would it be?

Did Liberace Have Great Working Memory?

I have vivid memories watching Liberace masterfully and playfully tickling the ivory on his ornate pianos as a child of the 70’s. I was always amazed by the ease in which he played. Was he born with this gift? He obviously practiced thousands of hours. But was there something else, another piece to the puzzle of his musical genius? Perhaps, he had great working memory.

A recent study looked at piano player’s ability to sight read a new piece of music. It was published in journal Psychological Science and demonstrated that while practice, practice, practice, leads to great musical performance, that working memory capacity, plays an important role in the level of performance that can ultimately be achieved.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers he shares the body of research that shows regardless of the skill or activity,  that over 10,000 hours of consistent practice is required to achieve an expert level of proficiency. Incidentally, Mozart is one of the musical geniuses highlighted in this fascinating discussion. While practice makes perfect, cognitive function must be at a sufficient level to engage and excel at the task, as in the example of the pianist.  With that said, cognitive function, working memory in this case is not something which is fixed. What your capacity is today, can be increased, dramatically, to help you excel in all areas of life, including musical performance.

Working memory is of great interest to me, largely because it is becoming increasingly recognized as one of the fundamental cognitive abilities that is key to unlocking our full potential. This is not new information. This is a discovery my father made some 35 years ago, and has fervently pursued since, developing methods to expand working memory and sequential processing ability. Work that I have continued at Advanced Brain Technologies through our BrainBuilder® neurosoftware program which assesses and trains these abilities.

I am pleased to see the research community taking such interest in working memory and look forward to seeing more studies linking cognitive function to musical ability in the future. For you musicians perhaps you may consider some targeted working memory training to accompany your practice and advance your performance to an entirely new level!

Read more about the research linking working memory to musical performance.

Mozart Soothes Premature Babies

My wife and I just returned from an appointment with our OB to check on the progress of our son Brendan who is due to arrive in January.  As an expectant father and producer of therapeutic music programs I am a huge believer in the positive benefits of exposing our son to music in utero and beyond.

So,  I just opened my email and sitting in my Inbox is a study forwarded to me by my friend and collaborator Don Campbell that demonstrates that Mozart soothes premature babies.  Now, this is no revelation for those of us in the field, but it it gratifying to see researchers continue to study the effects of music on newborns, at a time when our auditory system is most vulnerable to the onslaught of noise we are faced with as we exit the birth canal and leave the warmth and comfort of the fluid filled womb.

The Israeli study demonstrated that healthy, premature infants who listened to Mozart  had a 10-13 % reduction in resting energy expenditure compared to those with no music exposure.  The study did not evaluate other music and has not been replicated but the findings are interesting and support further scientific exploration. This study will be published in the January print issue of the journal Pediatrics. Read the story in the online edition of U.S. News & World Report.

So, when Brendan arrives will there be music to greet him? The answer is an unequivocal YES!! What will he be listening to? Well, to be honest the award-winning Music for Babies collection that I co-produced with my dear friend Richard Lawrence a few years ago. Newborn or otherwise, I can assure you Sleepy Baby and Peaceful Baby will ease the stress of your day.