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November 2009
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January 2010

A good cause

If you have a Facebook account and a few minutes you can help the El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestras win a $10,000 grant. EPYSOs Music Director Andres Moran is a good friend of mine.  We attended graduate school together and spent many nights shooting pool at one of Dallas' finest watering holes. Because of his hard work and dedication, as well as the efforts of all the EPYSOs staff, the EPYSOs is a finalist for the "Clorox Clean-Up Power: A Bright Future" contest, through Facebook.

Out of nearly 5,000 submissions the EPSYOs is one of only 30 programs moving to the voting phase, and the only music program that made the finals. The 5 programs with the most votes will each win a $10,000 grant and a feature in People magazine.  The grant will go a long way in supporting EPYSOs programs, which have been severely impacted by the recession. You can vote here, and can vote once per day through January 17, 2010.


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Steve Reich writes rock music

Steve Reich's newest piece is 2x5, a foray into rock-influenced composition:

This 21-minute piece calls for a total of ten musicians: four electric guitars, two pianos, two bass guitars, and two drum sets. Performers can either play the piece all-live with ten musicians or with five live musicians against a pre-recorded tape.

No recordings yet, but here is some footage of Reich rehearsing the piece with the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Arts training improves attention and cognition: new empirical evidence

A very readable summary of some very interesting new research:

If there were a surefire way to improve your brain, would you try it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs and pills that claim to offer “cognitive enhancement,” many people are lining up for just such quick brain fixes. Recent research offers a possibility with much better, science-based support: that focused training in any of the arts—such as music, dance or theater—strengthens the brain’s attention system, which in turn can improve cognition more generally.

Michael Posner and Brenda Patoine, authors of the study, are finding clear causal links between arts training and increased cognitive ability!

Jonah Lehrer (my absolute favorite science journalist, and one of my favorite writers about anything, really) comments and elaborates on the importance of arts education:

That's why the research cited above is so important: it helps us appreciate the "soft" skills that we tend to neglect.

But I think that even this clinical evaluation of arts education misses an important benefit: self-expression. I shudder to think that second graders, at least in most schools, are never taught the value of putting their mind on the page. They are drilled in spelling, phonetics and arithmetic (the NCLB school day must be so tedious), and yet nobody ever shows them how to take their thoughts and feelings and translate them into a paragraph or a painting. We assume that creativity will take care of itself, that the imagination doesn't need to be nurtured. But that's false. Creativity, like every cognitive skill, takes practice; expressing oneself well is never easy.