Musicians show advantages in long-term memory

University of Texas at Arlington psychology researchers published and interesting research findings. They did sophisticated measurements of electrical activity of neurons in the brains of 14 musicians and 15 non-musicians. These tests proved, that musically trained people not only process linguistic materials faster than those without training, and have advantages in the working memory, but they process also non-verbal information faster.
As the researcher Dr. Heekyeong Park explained: “Our work is adding evidence that music training is a good way to improve cognitive abilities”.

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Singing … et al …

The stage is our canvas,
we paint with our voices,
we blend and combine them
into masterpieces.
Happy faces drive us forward
and reassure us
that what we do,
we do with all our heart and devotion.

This is how the Slovenian vocal group Perpetuum Jazzile describes itself. And it is really impressive to listen as well as to watch how they do it.

Often when I discuss our SingingTouch workshops with potential clients, their first reaction tends to be: “I have no voice …” or even “I am really tone deaf”! The fact is, that the tone deafness is really a rear health condition, and in most cases people are simply afraid of their own voice.

Perpetual Jazzily sings on a professional level and what is particularly interesting in this well known song (Africa from Toto), is what they do on top of the singing. The way how they use their bodies and the stage clearly shows, that there can be other ways to participate in choir performances – probably everyone can clap hands, flip fingers or stomp their feet. This could be a way for those from our potential clients, who “don’t have voice”, to join their colleagues and participate in SingingTouch workshops. And often they can be positively surprised, when many of them “find their voice” when supported by co-workers and teammates. It is a great feeling and a lot of fun.

Is Music the Key To Success?

The New York Times brought an interesting article trying to find answer to the question above. Many well known personalities are mentioned, from Condoleezza Rice to Woody Allen, who have much closer to active music making, than we know. NBC’s Chuck Todd, who also plays a French horn says: “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” Other high achievers mentioned in the article stressed, that music sharpened their collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas.

Workplace singing

Last year, while working on a concept and business plan for our company Artistic Interventions Inc., one Sunday evening I turned on my favorite television station TVOntario and to my delight, there was a BBC program called The Choir: Sing While You Work. Successful British choirmaster Gareth Malone had been presenting a very similar idea to what I was planning to do – bringing choir singing to a workplace. Based on his successful work with children and later with Military Wives, Gareth decided to coach four workplace choirs to sing in a competition.

Their approach was slightly different from ours, as they ‘cherry-picked’ best voices through auditions, and then worked with those to compete against similar choirs from other organization. We in our SingingTouch workshops, on the other hand, don’t differentiate musical or voice capacity or qualities of our clients. At Artistic Interventions Inc. we strongly believe that everyone in an organization can and should have their voice heard and everyone can participate.

Following on from the success of the 2012 series, Sing While You Work had continued in 2013 with the second series, when Gareth Malone formed choirs from the staff of five organizations – P&O Ferries, Birmingham City Council, Sainsbury’s (supermarket giant), Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, and Citi bank. This reality show allows viewers to follow the process from forming a choir, through rehearsals, building strengths on the musical level as well as human level among colleagues and team-members, up to nerve-wracking competition performances. And although the whole process takes just a few months, many of the participating choirs continue singing together even after the program finished.

Gareth Malone has done a lot of great work promoting choir-singing among amateur singers, showing clearly all those benefits one can gain from actively participating in music making. Our goal is to bring similar opportunities and benefits to our clients here in Canada.


Leadership as a natural process

BBC News published an interesting article How to conduct your staff, where the business correspondent Peter Day describes his experience at the recent London (UK) concert of the Royal Concertgebuw Orchestra from Amsterdam, with Mariss Jansons conducting. The article greatly summarizes in non-musical language, how current successful conductor (and leader) works. The autocratic, dictatorial and stardom-building approach of a conductor is mostly a thing of the past. The opposite is now a way to success, as the article describes Mr. Jansons’ role “it was a man among equals, enabling the ensemble to flower, joining their efforts to his to evoke the spirit of the music … to realize the possibilities of the ensemble … .”
I like parts of the article, where the author ties his experience with the business world: “… in Mr Jasnons’ enabling rather than autocratic style of leadership there were some real lessons for business people who look to conducting to show them how to run an organization. … How much the bosses and managers of other organizations and companies could learn from that community of purpose.”
The conductor himself describes his role: “It my job, to find out the orchestra’s qualities and preserve them. Then, if through a natural process, my own individuality adds something – and theirs to me – then it will be fine.”

Our company Artistic Interventions Inc. offers similar experience to clients in our MusicTouch workshops, where participants not only ‘peek’ over a shoulder of a conductor, but are facing him together with the rest of the orchestra and have an opportunity to witness and listen the process when music is almost invented in front of them.

When Orchestra Plays Mindfully

An interesting interview with the renowned Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer on mindfulness, innovativeness and authenticity. Prof. Langer characterized mindfulness as the simple process of noticing new things. Noticing new things keeps us in the present, makes us sensitive to context and perspective and helps us being engaged … and authentic.
She described a research, where they had an orchestra playing their piece mindfully and also mindlessly. The result was that “when the pieces are played mindfully, the symphonic orchestra members not only enjoy what they are doing, but that mindfulness seems to leave its imprint on the product they produce. … So that you seem more attractive to other people, you are feeling better and more engaged and enjoying your work and the thing you are doing ends up prospering. So it is win-win-win!”

Our clients have an opportunity to experience the same impact on the final result/product, when they attend our MusicTouch workshop.

You can watch the interview here.

“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

James Baldwin

Is Music Metaphor Better Than The Sport One?

“Are sports teams the most appropriate examples for today’s work team?” Interesting answer to this question brings the Forbes’ article Sick Of Sports: Why Rock Bands Are A Better Metaphor For Work Teams. Its author Ruth Blatt writes often about social science behind rock’n’roll music. And her answer here is a clear NO.
In sports, as Blatt writes in the article, there are clear winners and losers, there are rarely changing rules, or customer needs and expectations, and the organizational setup is stable.
But in real life, most organizational teams’ success depends on their creativity and adaptation to constant change. Instead of winning above competition, the most important is meeting the need of their customers – and only through that to beat their competition. And that means responding rapidly to challenges and opportunities.
On the other hand, rock music bands metaphor is much closer to the real life, as they create new products (concerts, recordings, videos) and they sell them in the marketplace. They also have to satisfy stakeholders, be it their audience, their peers, and critics. Rock musicians must generate revenue and constantly innovate to stay relevant.
Blatt summarizes her thoughts stating, “As exciting as it is to watch a great sports team, organizational teamwork is more complex than the playing field. By focusing on winning and losing, the sports metaphor narrows what we can ultimately accomplish.”