Programming Cheer in Hard Times

Mike Lawson • Archives • September 10, 2009

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During difficult economic times, programming concerts can be especially challenging for orchestras, bands, and other ensembles. In spite of the potential for their spirits to be raised by the musical experience, audiences facing hard times might be more reluctant to pay for tickets. In school music programs, these performances often have a broader application that goes beyond the audience; they have a beneficial impact on the students who may need to overcome challenging emotions stemming from parents’ job losses or other difficult situations, all while providing an educational learning opportunity.

The California Philharmonic Orchestra, which is led by conductor and founder, Victor Vener, takes an innovative approach to programming which harkens back to an earlier period of time. According to an Aug. 8 article on, Vener states, “Somehow between the 1890s and the 1920s there was a complete crossover into classical music being totally serious and not integrated with pop music as it had been in previous centuries. And it fragmented into its own little zone and because of that it got snotty and people got bored with it.” Vener’s approach is to combine more serious music with music that would normally be included in a pops concert. In a similar vein, anyone who has ever had the benefit of attending a concert with Sir James Galway comes away feeling good, as he often takes out his tin whistle and with some lighthearted patter, enlivens the mood of the audience.

According to Science Daily, Nov. 12, 2008, “Researchers at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine have shown that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function.” Conversely, they also indicate that certain types of music made volunteers feel anxious, actually narrowing blood vessels, as opposed to the dilation that occurs when listening to joyful music. Obviously, it is the contrasts in music that allow the multitude of emotions to be felt in each listener and performer and it would be antithetical to present only “happy” music. However, it is insightful to recognize that programming certain types of works can certainly provide a psychologically positive impact on the students who perform, as well as the audiences who come to listen, especially during these troublesome times.

Lastly, In the February 2005 issue of the international research journal Medical Science Monitor, research was reported to have shown that “playing a musical instrument can reverse multiple components of the human stress response on the genomic level.” Perhaps this is why we often see many students leaving band class with a bit more optimism and a bit less stress…

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