The Arts and the Brain: A Healing Relationship

by Bill Marx

Brain Snuggles with Violin at The World’s Studio

In my latest World Books podcast, which includes video coverage, I examine evolving international views of the relationship between neuroscience and the arts, with a special emphasis on the healing powers of music for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. The Longwood Symphony Orchestra recently presented a symposium on the effects of the arts on the brain, particularly on people suffering from cognitive impairments.


The lineup of talks and events included “Swansongs,” a program of music developed by John Zeisel and Paul Roberston, founder and former first violinist of the Medici Quartet. Zeisel is part of an international movement dedicated to exploring the beneficial effects of music on those suffering from Alzheimer’s. The founder of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, Zeisel has recently published a book entitled “I’m Still Here ,” which details his work in the field of non-pharmacologic treatment for Alzheimer’s. He is also helping to organize the international program “Harmonious Cities: Music, Technology, Culture and Health” with the International Council for Caring Communities in cooperation with United Nation partners and the private sector.

Longwood Symphony Orchestra conductor Jonathan McPhee

I asked Zeisel, along with Dr Lisa Wong, the President of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, which is made up of medical students and physicians, and Jonathan McPhee, the conductor of the orchestra, to talk about global efforts to change our perceptions of the relationship between music and the brain — and how that will change the way diseases of the mind are treated. After the interview, I asked Lisa and John to present a video sample of “Swansongs.”


For those of you who don’t know about us, and wish to subscribe to this and other great podcast and blogs, The World is an international news program co-produced by the BBC World Service in London, Public Radio International and WGBH Boston.

And World Books is more than my weekly podcast – the online feature includes reviews, interviews, news, and commentary on international literature, including a review of “2666,” Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño epic novel which many critics consider to be a masterpiece of Latin American fiction.

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