By Amy Ellis Nutt: The Washington Post
Parents who have patiently sat through countless music recitals and questioned their sanity at encouraging all those trumpet or violin lessons need do so no longer. Even ear-splitting dissonance has an upside.
Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well, according to a new study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development.
Using a database produced by the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18 specifically looking at brain development in children who play a musical instrument. (The original study did not indicate specific instruments.)
“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”
The cortex, or outer layer of brain, changes in thickness as a child grows and develops. Previously, Hudziak and colleagues Matthew Albaugh and Eileen Crehan found relationships between cortical thickening and thinning in various areas of the brain responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. This research, announced last month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, was different.
“I wanted to look at positive things, what we believe benefits child development,” Hudziak said. “What I was surprised by was the emotional regulatory regions. Everyone in our culture knows if I lift 5-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound weights, my biceps will get bigger. The same is true for the brain. We shouldn’t be surprised we can train the brain.”
Because the study’s participants were all mentally healthy children, Hudziak thinks the positive effect of music training on those who are not could be significant.
“A kid may still have ADHD,” he said. “It’s the storm around it that improves.”
Inspired by his own research, and having never learned to play an instrument, the 56-year-old Hudziak decided to take viola lessons last year.
“I had this passion for health promotion in children, it seemed silly not to do it myself,” he said.
Though music isn’t his only health-related extracurricular activity — Hudziak also engages in regular exercise and meditation — he believes the viola lessons contribute to his overall wellness. They have not, however, contributed much to his overall playing ability — at least not yet. The sanguine psychiatrist had just one word for his viola skills:
By SINDYA N. BHANOO
NEW YORK TIMES
Published: November 11, 2013
Childhood music lessons can sometimes leave painful memories, but they seem to carry benefits into adulthood. A new study reports that older adults who took lessons at a young age can process the sounds of speech faster than those who did not.
“It didn’t matter what instrument you played, it just mattered that you played,” said Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University and an author of the study, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience.
She and her collaborators looked at 44 healthy adults ages 55 to 76, measuring electrical activity in a region of the brain that processes sound.
They found that participants who had four to 14 years of musical training had faster responses to speech sounds than participants without any training — even though no one in the first group had played an instrument for about 40 years.
Dr. Kraus said the study underscored the need for a good musical education. “Our general thinking about education is that it is for our children,” she said. “But in fact we are setting up our children for healthy aging based on what we are able to provide them with now.”
Other studies have suggested that lifelong musical training also has a positive effect on the brain, she added. Dr. Kraus herself plays the electric guitar, the piano and the drums — “not well but with great enthusiasm,” she said.
BY David Harding
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease: study
A recent research study found that those suffering from moderate to severe dementia did particularly well singing show tunes from movies and musicals such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ in group settings and had a marked improvement in their remembering skills versus those who simply listened during the sing-alongs.
The hills are alive with the sound of music, which could help people with Alzheimer’s stave off the effects of the debilitating disease.
A study by U.S. scientists has shown that the brain function of those suffering from dementia can be improved if they belt out their favorite show tunes.
Researchers working with elderly residents at an East Coast care home found in a four-month long study found that people who sang their favorite songs showed a marked improvement compared to those who just listened.
Among the songs sung during 50-minute sessions were hits from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music.”
The most improvement was among those sufferers with moderate to severe dementia.
Jane Flinn, one of the scientists involved in the study who works at George Mason University in Virginia, concluded singing was beneficial.
“Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia, when it is so advanced they are in a secure ward, singing sessions were still helpful,” she said.
“The message is: don’t give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, easy and engaging.”
This is the official ADA reply to AGT’s email:
Dear AGT Producer,
Thank you for message. I have discussed it with my colleagues (fellow opera agents) and I understand that at least 3 of them have received the very same email you sent below.
I will be honest when I say that I do not believe we have the kind of talent you are looking for. AGT seems bent on finding raw, untrained talent with the potential to appeal to a mass audience that does not choose to understand the musical significance and connection that trained singers offer. It is not my intention to respond out of snobbery or disrespect, but instead from the standpoint of someone who is acutely aware of the kind of instruction, preparation and training our clients endure in order to make a living as professional opera singers. Being a professional, working opera singer requires the same kind of practice, polish, skill and dedication to the craft that an Olympian must dedicate to his or her sport.
We manage the careers of singers with the mindset of aiding them in building a LONG-term career. It is our goal that our singers perform worldwide and realize careers marked by longevity, the experience of being involved in new and innovative productions and the appreciation of both stalwart opera enthusiasts as well as the burgeoning new opera crowd. A true operatic career requires not only years of vocal training, but the in-depth study of languages, musical styles spanning over 400 years, acting, dance, and even stage combat. The people we have seen AGT put forward as “opera singers” wouldn’t be hired in the most humble of opera houses in the real world.
I understand you are doing your job and that the focus of that job is to uncover exciting acts that will then be “discovered” on national television.
I am quite happy to announce that our fine artists have already been discovered.
Best of luck in your search,
Ana De Archuleta and the team at ADA Artists
Original AGT Email:
My name is XXXX and I’m a Casting Producer for America’s Got Talent. I am currently looking for the latest and greatest acts, of all ages and group size. After browsing your website, I believe that the members of your talented network would be ideal candidates for our upcoming season and I would love for you to share my casting information with everyone amongst your database of TALENT! Also, I’d love to speak with you directly and ideally get your stars on board to audition for our 9th Season of America’s Got Talent! If you think your TALENTED CLIENTS and ARTISTS have what it takes to be on America’s Got Talent, then please contact me today!
If you, or any of your colleagues have any incredible referrals or recommendations, please email me directly at XXXX with:
NAME, AGE, DESIRED AUDITION CITY, BRIEF DESCRIPTION of their TALENT, GROUP SIZE, CONTACT INFO and any VIDEOS or WEBSITES they have to showcase their act! **The more the videos can showcase their INCREDIBLE TALENT, INTENSE PERSONALITY and ENTERTAINMENT VALUE, the easier it will be to move forward with our casting process.
PLEASE SUBJECT THE EMAIL WITH – DESIRED AUDITION CITY/NAME OF ACT. This is very important!
Example: ATLANTA AUDITIONS- Taiko Warriors
Example: NEW YORK AUDITIONS – Dance Dance Romance
You can also find more information on our website.
I hope to hear from you soon!
Have a wonderful day.
By Lindsey Bever February 13 at 5:12 AM, THE WASHINGTON POST
The world’s best boys’ choirs have been losing their sweetest sopranos earlier and earlier to puberty. Every choir director knows that the crack, croak or squeak from a young singer means the boy will soon have a different sound. Many boys never stick with it through this voice change to see where it takes them.
That’s why the Cincinnati Boychoir is partnering with researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to study the science behind boys’ changing voices and learn better ways to help them transition as singers.
“Many choral directors and voice teachers believe that the voice change is a primary reason for boys quitting singing as they enter puberty,” Christopher Eanes, Cincinnati Boychoir’s artistic director and co-author of the upcoming study, told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “Who can blame a boy who, when singing, becomes uncomfortable for a time, follows his friends to the football team, never to look back at his musical career.”
“When one thinks about the fact that boys’ voices in the 18th century changed at 17 or 18 years old, and now they change around 12 or 13 years old, one can only conclude that boychoirs are heading for extinction,” he added.
Later this month, researchers will begin to study the physiological, aerodynamic and acoustic changes that happen when boy singers hit puberty. Some 20 Cincinnati Boychoir members from ages 5 to 11 will participate in the study, which is expected to last about two years. The boys will speak and sing in a sound booth, and researchers will examine their larynxes and voice boxes to see how they change during certain tasks, co-author Alessandro de Alarcon, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told The Post.
Over time, the researchers said, they hope the study will shed more light on how the male voice changes during puberty, particularly in vocalists, so voice teachers will know how to intervene to help them move into their adult voices.
“My personal hope is that we can, on some level, anticipate voice change stages in order to assign the appropriate voice part for a boy, or to design appropriate vocal exercises to strengthen certain aspects of the singing voice,” Eanes said. “Overall, anything we can do to make the voice transition more comfortable for boys will help us as teachers and conductors.”
He curses like a sailor and sings like a virtuoso. He speaks with a slightly gruff timbre that disappears on stage. Michael Keaton is planning to make a movie about his life, but that’s hardly the most interesting thing about Carl Tanner.
That would be the story of how Mr. Tanner, 51, went from poor Virginia boy to truck driver and bounty hunter and, finally, Met-quality opera singer. Last month, he made his Pittsburgh Opera debut as Radames in “Aida.”
At times, his story sounds like a plotline from the television show “Glee.” When Mr. Tanner was attending Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., he was a star wrestler and football player. Upon hearing him sing in the shower, a neighbor encouraged him to try out for the choir. At first, Mr. Tanner wasn’t interested — he said he thought guys in the chorus were “sissies” — until the friend told him how much Luciano Pavarotti made.
Carl Tanner, a former bounty hunter and truck driver who now is an acclaimed opera singer, is shown here in performance with Pittsburgh Opera. (YouTube video; 11/13/2013)
For Mr. Tanner, money was an important consideration. His father left school in the sixth grade to work in a sawmill. He eventually became a painter for the government, retiring with an annual income of $23,000. His mother had been a detective for the Arlington County police. Mr. Tanner was the youngest of four boys.
After joining the chorus junior year, he took a few lessons from his choir teacher. Out of high school, he made plans to play right tackle at the University of Maryland. He attended for only a week, deciding he wasn’t college material.
So he drove a florist van instead, picking up and delivering flowers around Washington, D.C. He enjoyed the independence of the job, spending his days listening to the radio. But he was ashamed to tell his friends what he was doing, so after driving for a few more months, he decided to try singing again.
Mr. Tanner auditioned at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. He knew only a few songs — “O Holy Night,” “Amazing Grace” and “Arm, Arm, Ye Brave” from Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” — but won over the audition committee nonetheless. He became the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college. His mother asked him what he wanted to do with his new diploma.
“I said, ‘I think I’m gonna drive a truck’ … Even though I was a good singer, I didn’t want it bad enough.”
He got a commercial driver’s license and drove a truck for a picture frame company for four years. During that time, a friend told him about a bounty hunter, an aging ex-Green Beret, looking for a partner. So began Mr. Tanner’s two years both truck-driving and chasing people down, from Haitian drug kingpins to old ladies operating an illegal day care center to lawyers who wouldn’t pay child support. During his first year, he made $80,000. He had never seen so much money in his life.
“It wasn’t easy. I wrestled people to the ground. I got punched in the face,” he said.
His stories go on and on. Sometimes, his dates don’t quite make sense, but you don’t want to interrupt him.
In one job, he hunted down a 16-year-old delinquent hiding out in a West Virginia cabin. When he approached from the front, the teenager started firing at him with a rifle. He and his partner eventually hog-tied him in their truck.
On the ride home, Mr. Tanner lectured the teen. “You can start your life over every day when you’re 16,” he told him.
Years later, at a 7-Eleven, Mr. Tanner saw the young man. He thanked him for helping him get his life in order and said he was now working at a nearby Honda dealership. And Mr. Tanner?
“I said, ‘I’m an opera singer.’ He said, ‘You’re [kidding] me, right?’ ”
Mr. Tanner gave up his bounty-hunting and truck-driving career not long after a man he was chasing was electrocuted by a power line right in front of him. “I saw him light up like a Christmas tree. Slowly, my mind healed after that.
“I’ve seen much worse in opera.”
He moved to New York City to pursue a singing career, taking a job as a singing waiter. After singing an aria from Puccini’s “Tosca,” he was approached by Richard Gaddes of Santa Fe Opera, who recruited him to be an apprentice with the summer opera company.
The gig would launch his career. He was too old, and had too mature of a voice, to do traditional opera training programs. But the tenor signed with an agent, took the occasional gig and learned technique and repertoire. He earned roles on the regional circuit and then in larger companies, from New York City Opera to La Scala.
Before his in-house debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 2010, Mr. Keaton stumbled upon a New York Times article about Mr. Tanner. Mr. Keaton, a Pittsburgh native, contacted his agent and then Mr. Tanner to discuss the possibility of making a film based on the tenor’s life. Like all budding Hollywood movies, its fate is unclear, and it’s too soon to tell whether it will ever make it to theaters.
“I like Carl so much, and I thought his story was so great, and he’s such a decent dude,” said Mr. Keaton, who plans to direct and produce the film. “[The project] has already gone a little farther than a lot of other projects I’m working on.”
Stan Chervin, who wrote “Moneyball,” wrote the script for the latent movie, which Mr. Keaton said will be a comedy.
“It’s not a quiet study. He was a bounty hunter,” said Mr. Keaton.
“As long as it doesn’t make me look dumb,” said Mr. Tanner, a self-described “educated redneck.” He enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh and is even considering moving here with his partner and 5 year-old son.
Having numbers of Mr. Keaton and other famous Hollywood types in his phone is a little bizarre for Mr. Tanner. Then again, it’s just one in a long list of surprising things about him.
“At the end of the day, I’m a poor boy from Virginia, and I’m blessed. And that’s it.”
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com, 412-263-1750 or Twitter @BloomPG. Blog: Measured Words at www.post-gazette.com/measuredwords.
Singing With a Cold
by Anthony Jahn, M.D.
It’s most singers’ nightmare. Two days before an important engagement, it begins: the stuffy, itchy nose; the headache; and the congestion. A cold is on its way, and your engagement cannot be canceled. You know the cold will usually run its course in a week—but you must sing now, and make the best of it. What to do?
Short of canceling (a wise choice, if it is an option), you can do several things to make the course of your infection shorter and less severe, and lessen its impact on your voice.
Colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Normally transmitted by physical contact or the aerosol droplets of a sneeze, these viruses can survive outside of the body for up to 72 hours—you don’t need to be infected in real time by someone with a cold.
As the name implies, rhinoviruses have an affinity for your nose. Typically, they begin the infection by attaching themselves to the mucous membrane in your nasal passages. There, they start to multiply and the clinical symptoms begin. Rhinitis progresses to nasal congestion, postnasal drip, then laryngitis, cough, and possibly, bronchitis.
What can you do once the viruses have landed?
Everyone has his or her favorite routine for dealing with a cold. I would like to give you some of mine, and, if the show must go on, some tips on singing with a cold.
Numerous scientific studies have shown that zinc can help. Zinc gluconate tablets, or nasal swabs (such as Zicam), when wiped over the infected mucosa, can be beneficial. Zinc not only shortens the duration of the cold, it also lessens the severity of the symptoms, and (attention choral singers) shortens the period during which you are contagious. Zinc seems to work only once the cold has begun, however—it has no preventive effect, so you don’t need to take daily zinc prophylactically.
If your nose is not too congested, you should begin (or increase) using saline nasal spray or irrigations. You can find many manufactured solutions at the drug store, but I recommend a Neti pot with lukewarm saline that you make up yourself. Why? It’s cheaper and easier.
Unlike Zinc, vitamin C does have some preventive effect. Whether you take vitamin C preventively or not, you should increase your intake once the cold has started. I recommend 4,000 mg in divided doses daily, though some physicians recommend even more. Since vitamin C is water soluble, you won’t poison yourself with excessive amounts—it is simply excreted in the urine. Side effects however may include mild diarrhea and heartburn.
Echinacea and goldenseal are two herbs often recommended for treatment of a cold. Again, you should take them once you have a cold. Whatever benefit they may confer, they do not prevent inoculation of the virus.
OK, you’ve done all you can, yet the cold continues. What to do, what to avoid?
As much as possible, avoid antihistamines. Antihistamines, especially the proprietary mixtures such as DayQuil or NyQuil, are very drying and make phonation difficult. Decongestants such as Sudafed, on the other hand, are a bit drying, but the benefit may outweigh the negative effect. Inhaling warm steam before the performance is helpful, perhaps with a drop or two of eucalyptus oil in the pot. This soothes the upper airway and loosens sticky mucus.
From the vocal point of view, your difficulties will be on the top and in the passaggio. Swelling and thick mucus on the vocal folds affect the top, and irritation of the pharynx affects the passaggio. This may require you to push, to muscle the voice more than usual. Support may also be affected, especially if you have chest congestion and are dealing with a cough.
When singing with a cold, it is important to be aware of support, and also to realize that you may temporarily need to use suboptimal technique to get the voice out. As soon as the cold passes, conscientiously revert to your good technique, opening the pharynx, lowering the larynx, and anchoring the voice in the lower abdomen and pelvis. In other words, do whatever is necessary to get the voice out, but as soon as possible, return to your normal good technique, otherwise your temporary compensation may itself become a problem.
Many singers think they “sound better” with a cold. They don’t. When you have a cold, more sound is absorbed into the swollen tissues of the upper airway, so to your ears the voice (conducted directly through the body) sounds louder. This conducted sound favors lower frequencies (with longer waves), so the sound seems not only louder, but also deeper. The voice coming out of your mouth, however, is not what you hear inside, so don’t be deceived.
Perhaps most importantly, you must rest your voice after your ordeal. You can get through one or two performances with a cold perhaps, but continued singing while impaired can cause damage.
Norman Punt, the English laryngologist, once quipped that the difference between a professional singer and an amateur is that the professional can sing even when he doesn’t want to, and the amateur can’t, even when he does. The singer with a cold exemplifies this aphorism. None of this advice will lead to a great performance, but it can be an adequate one.
Anthony Jahn M.D., noted author and professor of clinical otolaryngology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has offices in New York and New Jersey. His book, The Care of the Professional Voice, now in its second printing, is available on the CS website.
E-mail the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org