Music & Learning


The ‘Mozart Effect’ – fact or fiction?

There has been a long standing belief that Music has an enhancing effect upon our Health and Cognitive Development. In this programme Paul Robertson explores whether the current popularisation of Mozart’s music in this role has any foundation in fact.

Many serious researchers tend to favour the benificial effect of music in general but increasingly debunk the idea that Mozart has any particular efficacy.

On the other hand a number of leading scientists have concluded that (amongst others) Mozart’s special compositional genius does seem, so to speak, to ‘reach parts other music cannot reach’.

We invite you to draw your own conclusions!


The Music Mind Spirit Trust’s cutting-edge research into the significant role music plays in learning and education was kick-started with ‘Swansongs’ as early as 2004 (see below).

MMST continues work in this important area through its SongTrees Young Artist Musical Ambassadors (YAMA) Programme, which trains the next generation of musicians how to facilitate and reawaken latent musicianship within families, care homes and communities. The YAMA Programme is in partnership with Yehudi Menuhin’s flagship organisation, Live Music Now and the Royal Academy of Music.

Swansongs – Learning about the impact Music can have in Alzheimer’s care and Wellbeing


John Michael Kohler Arts Center

proudly presents


November 18 2004, 7:30 pm

The performance

Swansongs interweaves music and storytelling to provide insight into Alzheimer’s disease, the experience of care giving, the emotional and spiritual gifts ompassionate care partners receive, and some basic commonsense behavioral and environmental treatment tips.

In the hands of master musician Professor Paul Robertson, music magically provides us with profound insight into the internal experience of people living with this disease—their journey into the nknown—with a precision that words alone cannot capture. Actual care-giving stories, thoughtfully recounted by Alzheimer’s care specialist Dr. John Zeisel, represent the care partners’ experience—the challenges and opportunities they face and the gifts of patience, insight, and compassion they receive throughout this process. The performance provides all those touched by and curious about this pandemic a unique and thoughtful way to approach the perilous journey into the unknown that is Alzheimer’s disease—a journey for which we are all ill-equipped.

The problem

Over 5 million people in North America currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. Their
families, friends, and colleagues represent at least another 30 million people. The figures in the UK are 750,000 with the disease and 4 1.2 million directly affected. The figures in Europe, the Far East, South America, Australia, Africa, and other areas of the world are equally staggering. A study in the U.S. found that between the ages of 65-75, just over 4% have the disease, between 75-85 this figure jumps to almost 20%, and over 85 years old the number jumps to over 45%. The costs are equally astronomic—estimated in the U.S. alone at $100 billion annually.

Care partners of people living with Alzheimer’s are under continual and extreme stress. They get seriously ill more often than do others their age. If they do not take care of themselves with knowledge, respite, and stress-reducing activities, they cannot take care of the people they love.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Dementia represents a condition in which damage to a person’s brain results in his/her losing certain capacities. Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia—albeit 70% to 80% of dementias. Damage in Alzheimer’s disease is evident in plaques and tangles in the brain that result in specific symptoms. These include loss of the ability to carry out complex sequences of tasks—“executive function,” loss of impulse-control, difficulty retrieving memories and laying down new ones, and eventually diminished control over physical functions. One part of the brain—the emotional center that rests in the amygdala—remains less damaged until late in the disease and thus provides a key to successful nonpharmacological treatment. Symptoms are far more complex and intriguing than the simple distinction between short-term and long-term memory.

The music

The musical excerpts in Swansongs illustrate the following Alzheimer-related themes and are drawn from the following sources.

The familiar

J. S. Bach (1685-1750) “Allemanda” from the Partita in D minor performed by Paul

The comfort of home

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” performed by
Paul Robertson

Hard-wired memories underlie our sense of identity

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) “The Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross”

Intense emotional states can shatter our sense of home

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) “Cavatina” from String Quartet Op. 130: Medici
Quartet, Nimbus Records

Living with another

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) “Capriccio Sextet”: Medici Quartet & friends, Nimbus

Being shut out by the other

“Grundge,”Judas Priest, Metal Mix ’73-’93 CD Disk 1/ Track 7

Fear in dementia

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) Quartets 1 (‘From My Life’) and 2: Medici Quartet,
Koch Records

Wandering in dementia

Gabriel Fauré (1854-1924) “String Quartet”: Medici Quartet, Nimbus Records

Faith in the enduring self—the spirit prevails

J. S. Bach (1685-1750) “Sarabanda” from the Partita in D minor performed by Paul

Treatment Tips from Swansongs

• Don’t say “No.” “No” is a powerful emotive word that easily negates a person’s
sense of self. Subtly agreeing with the person leads to a three-fold process:
agree, divert, and redirect.

• Accept the person’s reality about events and time. Just like you don’t want
someone to negate your feelings when you are really upset, relate to how they
see the world rather than asking them to see it your way.

• Make sense of everything. If a person says something that doesn’t make sense to
you, figure out what the intent of the sentence is—it’s underlying meaning—and
rephrase it or respond to that rather than the precise words.

• Introduce yourself—even to your mother. She knows who you are. Reminding her
of your name and your relationship to her helps her place you in her life story.

• Don’t “test.” Never point to someone and ask: “Do you remember who this is?” or
ask if they remember a person in a photo. Tell them the answer so they
remember more easily.

• Look to yourself or another cause for aggression and agitation. There is usually
something that triggers such behaviors. Don’t assume it is a “symptom” of the

• Control yourself—respond gently to the lack of impulse control.

• Live in the moment—stay connected to the person when you are with them. The
person will be sensitive to your lagging attention and may get upset or angry.

• With your help they can feel successful. If a person can’t do every part of a task, if
you do some parts, he probably can do the rest and feel competent.

• Remember people living with Alzheimer’s have all their memories. It’s just a matter
of helping them get access to them.

• Use music to evoke deep memories. Singing songs that were part of important
moments in a person’s life and playing familiar recordings evoke deep
remembered feelings and contribute to a sense of self.

• Have faith that the person you love and care for is there—and act on it.

John Zeisel & Paul Robertson

Dr. John Zeisel received his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University and has
taught architects at Harvard University, McGill University, and the University of
Minnesota. As president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care he is part of a team of dedicated professionals who manage seven assisted living treatment residences for people living with Alzheimer’s disease in New York and Massachusetts. The author of the classic text book Inquiry by Design and numerous articles demonstrating the health impacts of environmental design on people living with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Zeisel has been the principal investigator on several important research initiatives. He lectures widely on the nonpharmacological aspects of coordinated treatment—that to reduce symptoms most effectively and bring out each person’s essential selfhood, physical environment, behavioral approaches, and family involvement must be coordinated with medical and pharmacological care.

Dr. Zeisel makes careful distinction between treatment research, aimed at the millions of people who have and will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms now and in the future, and cure research aimed at reducing the occurrence of the disease—stressing the need for knowledge and research in both areas. As a member of the Board of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, he is acutely aware of the link between science and art.

Through Artists for Alzheimer’sTM, an initiative of The Hearthstone Alzheimer’s Family
Foundation, Dr. Zeisel has recently been developing artistic and emotive means to
reduce the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These include a one-act play,
museum tours for people with Alzheimer’s at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
City, and development of the Swansongs performance

Paul Robertson’s lifelong passion for exploring the implicit meanings of music has
taken many forms over the years. For 34 years he performed throughout the world as leader of the internationally renowned Medici String Quartet of which he was a founding member. The quartet recorded and was broadcast prolifically in addition to appearing at International Festivals across four continents. For more than 20 years he has worked alongside leading scientists to explore the neurological and scientific basis of music. This work reached a wide public with his highly acclaimed BBC 4 television series Music and the Mind.

Along with his busy concert schedule, he is in constant international demand as a
speaker and lecturer at medical, scientific, and educational conferences as well as
business colloquia. He is a cultural leader in the World Economic Forum and is in regular conversation with business, media, and political leaders.

In 2001 Paul was awarded a fellowship by the British National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts [NESTA] to explore the musical, mathematical, and spiritual foundations of Bach’s work for unaccompanied violin. Swansongs was significantly informed from his work as a NESTA Fellow.

Paul is presently working on a project linking music to management. The project—The
Pursuit of Perfection—is proving very attractive to the corporate world, a developing
area Paul considers of particular significance for our contemporary culture. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts,

visiting professor at both Kingston and Bournemouth Universities, and acts as an advisor to a number of research groups in universities worldwide. Paul recently delivered his inaugural lecture as visiting professor to the Copenhagen Business School.

Websites for further information:


Hearthstone Alzheimer Care

Paul Robertson

Artists for Alzheimer’s Program

The Alzheimer’s Association

John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Thanks to

The Gulbenkian Foundation, London

The Hearthstone Family Foundation, Lexington, MA

Artists for Alzheimer’s Program

The Study Society, London

The Caritas Project, Manchester, UK

The “Songtrees” Project, UK: The Music Mind Spirit Trust

and locally to


Frank G. and Frieda K. Brotz Family Foundation

Jim Pankow, Inc.

Wells Fargo

Johnson Bank

David and Sandra Sachse

Northland Plastics, Inc.

Universal Lithographers, Inc.