Pinchas Zukerman writes about CODA

Posted by Adrian Anantawan on Friday, July 15, 2011

Pinchas Zukerman writes about CODA

Israeli violinist Pinchas Zukerman, the artistic director of the National Arts Centre, wrote on his thoughts of the future of classical music, and was nice enough to mention our names and a brief outline of the CODA Project in the Ottawa Citizen:

Classical music can still thrive

By Pinchas Zukerman, Ottawa Citizen July 12, 2011

For some it may seem like an alarming time for classical music. The Philadelphia Orchestra, which filed for bankruptcy in April, and the New York City Opera, which is leaving Lincoln Center in the wake of a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, are two of the more recent casualties of today's difficult economy. Across North America, Europe and here in Canada some orchestras in the coming decades may face a similar future. As someone who travels the world playing music, I meet a lot of people who ask me why this trend is happening and what we should do about it.

For me, it's about recognizing that we are all living in the thick of great social change. With today's rapid advancements in information technology and social media, people's desire for information is as high as it has been in history. Last month I spent three weeks with incredible young classical performers, conductors and composers who came to the National Arts Centre's Summer Music Institute from across Canada and around the world to learn from me and a world-class, international faculty. And you know what? Before they even set foot in my office, these kids already knew every single thing I've ever done.

How, you might ask?
One word. YouTube.

"Why are you doing that on the downbow?" I said in a lesson with a young violinist.
"Because you did it on the downbow with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1982," she replied.

We can argue about whether that's good or bad that students now experience learning this way, and it's probably a little bit of both. But it is a perfect illustration of how fast information moves, how badly people want it, and how quickly they can get it. These students grew up in the information age.

Scientists are studying how the information that floods our screens each day is affecting our brains, with some already suggesting that our quick-clicking addiction is changing the way our brains actually work.

What will never change, however, is our need to come together in a place and experience something that is beyond us, and for me that thing has always been music. Music is my connection to life, and above everything else - upbow or downbow - that is what I try to communicate to my students. In the Summer Music Institute and in all the teaching I do, I'm not trying to find the next great concertmaster, or the next great soloist. I'm there to help them make beautiful music, because it gives them better lives and makes them better people. This is what all of the performing arts do for us as a society.

Let us go back to the brain, where we already know that music does wonders. It helps students do better at math, in languages and in conceptual thinking. As I said before, music leads us to something greater than ourselves, and I have been particularly struck with that this year. Two of our students, Adrian Anantawan (who happens to play violin beautifully despite being born without a right hand) and pianist Bryan Wagorn came to the Summer Music Institute seven years ago. Since then they have returned every summer for more. They were hungry for it.

Then last fall they approached us, but this time they were hungry for something else. They wanted to design a program to help the institute's younger musicians - kids between the ages of 12 and 18 - to bring classical music into schools, particularly to kids who have little access to it. The project, in essence, was about teaching kids how to bring classical music to other kids.

A few weeks ago a group of those young musicians made three presentations to public schoolchildren, and they were absolutely delighted by it. Adrian and Bryan's idea is an incredible one and we're going to see where it leads us. But one thing is sure. It is about making lives better. Music - even in the midst of the sometimes alarming information age - always does.

Pinchas Zukerman is music director at the National Arts Centre Orchestra and artistic director of the Summer Music Institute.

© The Ottawa Citizen

Pinchas raises some interesting points in this article, and he's always been an autodidact on the relationship between music and the brain. For instance, his reference of music helping children with their math, languages and conceptual thinking has been a common argument of those in music education. Though I'm not informed enough of the literature to support his case directly, my questions are:

What are the specific areas in the brain are involved in music making, and how do these areas change in the learning process, relating to thinking in other subject matters? 

How do we know that it's music that helps thinking in math and language skills, and if so, is there a difference between performance, listening or composing?

Does genre make a difference? For instance, what can classical music offer to children's thinking skills compared to rap, jazz or pop? (this was one of the key questions we tried to answer in CODA)

One of the most prominent arguments on advocating music education within a general curriculum is it's benefits related to skills outside of music itself. For instance, an engineer who is creative as a result of a quality arts education while growing up can use the same parts of the brain while solving complex problems relating to their craft. I have a few thoughts on this, but perhaps for a later time.

In the 1990's, the United States Congress passed the Goals 2000: Education Act (a precursor to "No Child Left Behind"), which called for broad-based reforms of the core curricular subjects: math, English, science, geography and history. The aim of the act was to develop national standards for these specific areas in education, with the assumption that other subjects deemed essential would follow. The arts were the first of such "extracurricular" subjects to receive federal funding to develop a set of standards, a paradigm shift of the attitudes within American public (and education policy makers) on what was considered essential to the development of a child into the 21st century.

I imagine that the same arguments were made on behalf of the arts as with Pinchas' article, but I wonder how far we've come in finding a true commitment towards music education in Canada. The reasons for this are manifold, in my opinion, and too many to mention within this post. However, I believe that the evidence already exists on a corporeal level, albeit disorganized, and we need to dig even deeper so we can prove without a doubt that the arts, and classical music specifically, is essential to the future of our society. Again, back to Pinchas' argument, this evidence will be found within a cross disciplinary effort between the arts, neuroscience, education and health.

Neuroscience, in particular, fascinates me, and I hope that there will be more musicians willing to take on the challenge of exploring this area of science further. One of my colleagues at the NAC Summer Music Institute, Tali Kravitz, is a phenomenal teacher from New York, who is also on faculty at the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College. We met eight years ago in Ottawa, while we were both still practicing the violin frenetically. At the time, our only worries were based upon a tenant that Pinchas always mentioned to us, when distilling good playing to its core: "playing in tune, with a good sound!"

Fast forward to this summer, where Tali is now a violist (a wonderful one, I might add), and will now start a Neuroscience and Education degree at Columbia University. She is an inspiration on so many levels, and I hope there will be many others like her in the future who will bridge the gap between our craft and science.

So, I will leave you with this interesting talk with Dr. Charles Limb, a neuroscientist who spoke at a TED Talk a few years back:

More soon!

Tags: "tali kravitz" "pinchas zukerman" "neuroscience" "charles limb" 

The CODA Project

Created in 2010 by myself and colleague Bryan Wagorn, the Community Outreach for Developing Artists (CODA) program was implemented June 2011 at the National Arts Centre (NAC) Summer Music Institute (SMI), founded by Isreali violinist Pinchas Zukerman.