From Student to Fellow
I loved every second of my degree at Curtis Institute of Music; it truly is a one-of-a-kind institution. In a sometimes cut-throat field, Curtis is a safe haven filled with caring and thoughtful individuals from colleagues to teachers to administration. Curtis is the ideal setting for growth and learning, providing an environment that is simultaneously incredibly demanding, and utterly supportive. A Curtis motto that has always resonated with me is to “learn by doing”. I am someone who enjoys building things from the ground up. I prefer to be a part of a process at every stage so I fully understand each part of it. However, the downside to learning by doing can be the stress and pressure one can experience when nothing is under control and the next step is foggy at best. The upside is that even in circumstances where you fall flat on your face, when you get back up, you have more knowledge and experience to pay forward from your mistakes. Sometimes learning what not to do is even more valuable and provides a more impactful understanding than knowing what to do.
As a Curtis ArtistYear Fellow in a new and still very much evolving National Service Year program, we are diving headfirst into untouched waters. My passion to “learn by doing” has aligned and continued. I have chosen to pursue Service Year projects that I am personally passionate about, and provides an opportunity to expand Curtis community engagement projects in new ways.
I love performing. I love playing the cello, making music with friends, and sharing music with others. Over the past few years, though, I’ve felt an inclination to become more involved in my community in addition to performing–to find meaningful and relevant ways to connect with others on a more personal level. Performing is rewarding in many ways, but sometimes I feel the distance between the stage and the audience and I’ve been yearning to discover fulfilling ways to fill this gap as a citizen-artist.
My interest in becoming an Artist Year Fellow began long before Artist Year existed. Growing up, my parents exemplified generous, thoughtful people who were always involved in our community interested in each individual’s welfare. In our home, it was expected to always lend a helping hand, from small acts of kindness to strangers on the streets to performing in nursing homes and volunteering at schools and city events.
My ArtistYear projects derive from my long-time personal and family interest in the brain, and specifically the impact of music on the brain. My parents are both involved in medicine, my older brother just earned degrees in cognitive science and neuroscience, and my best friend (she’s practically my sister) is working towards her doctorate in clinical psychology. Needless to say, the brain has always been a hot topic at our dinner table.
If sometimes nothing more than a desire to understand the conversations at our family dinner table, or to discuss what my best friend and brother were working on during school breaks, I began reading and researching. From TED Talks to Neuro textbooks; from Sacks to Doidge, Gawande, and Levithan, I began to study the brain. I am particularly intrigued by the current research on the connection between music and the brain. Can music alter brain development? Can music alter the progression of brain disease? Is there a difference if the musical experience is passive or active? I am dedicated to studying how music engages and interacts with the brain in many different capacities and how I as a cellist can positively contribute.
To begin my focused commitment I chose to devote my ArtistYear to working with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and patients living with Alzheimer’s. There is evidence that music can communicate with parts of the brain unaltered by either ASD or Alzheimer’s. My mother has devoted years of her life to helping children with Autism and their families as a school board trustee, and was the first to help me realize that my music could communicate with them. Research has shown that music can help children with ASD develop and improve their social skills and ability to communicate with others. Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks argued that the parts of the brain responsible for remembering and responding to music are not significantly affected by many strains of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In the documentary Alive Inside, Dr. Sacks stated that music has the ability to activate the brain more than other stimuli.
With the rising incidence of both ASD and Alzheimer’s, more and more members of our society are impacted. As scientists discover more about early identification, intervention and treatment, I hope to drive support from the arts community and devote time to understanding the critical role music can play in this space.