Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Redemptive Power of Music

Yesterday an important new talk was posted on the TED TALKS website.  It is a talk given in Long Beach in February 2010 by Robert Gupta, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, about his experiences with his musician friend, Nathaniel Ayers.  He describes how he personally witnessed "the redemptive power of music" work its healing magic on Mr. Ayers.  Please watch this short video right now, before I continue. 

Were you moved by his story and his conviction to always make music with his friend?  I certainly was!  Gupta was very eloquent when he summed up his experiences with this man and how it relates to music.

"And I understood that this was the very essence of art.  This was the very reason why we made music.  That we take something that exists within all of us at our very fundamental core, our emotions, and through our artistic lens, through our creativity, we're able to shape those emotions into reality.  And the reality of that expression reaches all of us and moves us, inspires and unites us."
And in the line that TED used for the title of the Gupta talk, he said the following.

"Music is medicine.  Music changes us and for Nathaniel, music is sanity."
Correctly, the title of the talk generalizes the last three words, by removing the specific reference to Nathaniel.  This applies to all of us.  I don't suffer from a mental illness, but as I was going through the mourning process after the loss of Marcia, I realized the medicine I needed to add to my life.  Which I stated in the following way.

"I need to experience live classical music more often. It makes me stronger, more sane. I will be better, with more of it in my life."
 And clearly I was totally right to draw this conclusion, as shown by the fact that I experienced healing moments during both the performance of Mahler's 2nd Symphony and the performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto.  

In the TED Talk by Evelyn Glennie, she said, "Music really is our daily medicine."  And you may recall that Dr. Karl Paulnack says that "Music is a basic need of human survival."  So there is a lot of agreement on the importance of music and I started this blog to report on my life in music.   

Now as it turns out, I had already heard something about the life story of Nathaniel Ayers, as I had seen the piece 60 Minutes did on him.  When you watch that video below, you'll get to see him playing his cello and trumpet and you'll get to meet the journalist, Steve Lopez, who discovered him on the streets of Los Angeles and wrote many columns, and then a book which became the film The Soloist, about those experiences.  You will also see Ayers interacting with Gupta and other members of the LA Philharmonic.
You will also see his sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, describe the devastating after effects of the shock treatment that Ayers was subjected to, in an attempt to restore his sanity, after he first became ill at Julliard.

"I remember when he came out, he had this look on his face, it was . . . almost like a zombie.  She [their mother] expected him to go in and come out a different person.  And that . . . it just didn't work out that way."

You may recall that Gupta mentioned that Ayers now refuses treatment, having been treated so long ago with "shock therapy and Thorazine and handcuffs."  In the 60 Minutes piece, the journalist and his sister are left hoping at the end that he will eventually accept treatment from one of the so-called "new, more effective drugs."  It seems to me that Ayers learned his lesson then and it's time the world recognizes he now benefits from a humane treatment, in his work with music and his musician friends.

So the journalist voiced his wish that, "This man is well on the way to recovery" only to discover that, "The next day, he's the devil."  But the musicians clearly get that his redemption has come and will continue to come through his work with the music and the musicians.  How much easier would his path had been, if he had not been so seriously harmed by the shock treatment?  Well the musicians and Ayers himself are the heroes of this piece, saving the planet, one soul at a time!!

And notice that Ayers does not view himself as a victim, in spite of the harmful treatment he received.  On the contrary, in one lucid moment in the video, he states, "Music is saying, you know, life isn't that bad . . ." and in another, "It's very good to be alive right now."  And think about this.  How many people on the rough streets of Los Angeles has Ayers himself helped by performing his own live music?  My guess is that it is more than a few.    

And so we end with a performance on the cello by Nathaniel Ayers, accompanied by Joanne Pearce Martin, Principal Keyboardist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


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