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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Marketing & Communications
(714) 876-2380

The transformative power of music takes center stage when Pacific Symphony’s Heartstrings program breaks new ground with health and wellness

Orange County, Calif. — August 19, 2014

Pacific Symphony has embraced the power music has on health and wellness by collaborating on new projects with three community partners, all members of Heartstrings (see end of release for more on this): Age Well Senior Services, Orange County Rescue Mission and The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Inspired by recent scientific research and studies offering evidence that music can have a profound impact on a person’s health in numerous ways, the Symphony recently launched two multi-week pilot programs, with one more taking place this fall. Research has shown that music improves the quality of life in individuals (infants to senior citizens) by encouraging social bonds, recalling positive memories and being an outlet for emotional expression, among many other benefits. The Symphony’s pilot programs have received support from the William and Nancy Thompson Family Foundation, The Ahmanson Foundation and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. For more information on these programs and “Heartstrings,” contact Symphony Vice President of Education and Community Engagement Pam Blaine at (714) 876-2360 or

Growing medical research on the tangible effects of music on the brain and the body underline that: exposure to music alters the physical structure of the brain and shapes its development throughout a lifespan; musical engagement exercises attention networks and executive function, evokes emotional response and stimulates the central nervous system; music has the potential to “fix” the brain by providing an alternative entry point into a “broken” brain system to remediate impaired neural processes or neural connections. In short, providing opportunities for people to experience music in many settings can have a profound effect on their healthy development.

“Through various education and community engagement programs, we have witnessed how music can improve children’s education, increase the quality of life for adults and create special bonds for families,” says Blaine. “We now want to go even further with our efforts to contribute to the health of Orange County by working with community partners to increase the health and well-being of all people, regardless of their level of functioning. Our initial pilot programs have vastly exceeded our expectations and have made a profound impact on our participants. Our plans are to expand the programs in both breadth and depth in the coming year.”


Pilot Program #1: Age Well Senior Services

For the initial pilot program, the Symphony partnered with Age Well Senior Services’ Adult Day Health Care, a program that caters to aging adults who suffer from dementia, traumatic brain injury, developmental disabilities, depressive disorder and strokes. Knowing that so many lives and families are affected by these conditions, the Symphony was anxious to work with an organization where live musical experiences could be used as a tool for improving the participants’ well-being by elevating moods and activating memories. For more on Age Well, visit:

As part of the program, Symphony musicians provided six performances to participants in the Adult Day Health Care program. The music was selected to maximize audience engagement with special consideration given to the specific needs of the participants in this setting. Prior to beginning the concert series, the musicians received training from the music therapist and program director on how music affects the participants and how best to engage them with the music. The musicians and center staff also consulted about the program for that day, before working together to create an environment that provided for an enjoyable and engaging musical experience for the participants. After the concert, the Symphony and staff met again to discuss the clients’ reactions to the music and plan for the next performance.

Performances by the Symphony’s flutist Cindy Ellis and harpist Michelle Temple allowed for a sophisticated level of engagement with the participants, and the musicians were able to respond to their reactions in real time. Typical behaviors of those with Alzheimer’s disease such as wandering and social isolation were reduced. Participants became so focused and moved by the music that one participant who typically would sit with his head down became completely engaged—picking up a tambourine and playing along with the musicians’ performance of “Habanera." The music therapist who works with this patient year-round said this was “a first for this gentleman.”

When asked what the most valuable aspect of this program was for her as a musician, Ellis remarked, “I now know the power of music on the audience and that I am making a difference.”

Not only did music create joy, but it brought memory recognition to those living with Alzheimer’s. One such participant, Peter, bobbed his head rhythmically to Handel’s Concerto in G and reminisced with the musicians about playing the flute when he was younger. He also came up to the Symphony musicians after performance of “When You Wish upon a Star” and held the flute with the proper hand positioning. Musicians, staff and volunteers alike experienced the difference this program made on participants.

“We saw eyes opening, feet swaying and toes tapping. There was engagement, humming, singing, arms waving and eyes sparkling,” said Symphony volunteer Jaye Yaruss.


Pilot Program #2: Orange County Rescue Mission

In addition to the exciting work with Age Well, the Symphony teamed up with the Orange County Rescue Mission’s transitional living facility, the Village of Hope, to bring the healing power of music to mothers and their infants. This seven-week pilot program was designed to support mothers and babies residing at the Village of Hope who were suffering from emotional and/or physical trauma. Each week, Symphony violinist Dana Freeman and violist Carolyn Riley performed music, while teaching artist Maria Simeone led one-hour classes focusing on one core teaching concept every two weeks: “Space” (personal, group and musical), “Pulse & Rhythm” and “Balance & Symmetry.” Accompanied by the music, mothers and babies danced, moved and sang together during the learning activities. For more on the Rescue Mission, visit

The classes were designed to be fun, play-based and focused on the brain-based music and movement. They inspired optimal brain development through tummy time, rhythm patterns and vocal expressions and also incorporated relaxation and de-stressing techniques. The music and activities created a safe environment where mothers were able to build long-lasting bonds with their babies and one another, as well as to establish confidence in themselves.

“The moms opened themselves up more, trusted and allowed their babies the freedom to explore and be babies. I saw mothers team up with other moms to create the class-related crafts, and take a more active part in celebrating the milestones of other babies, besides their own,” says Simeone.

Mothers were motivated to get their children on a nap schedule, because they wanted to ensure they were rested and ready for class. Music helped them to become much more aware of the non-verbal cues communicated to them by their babies, and the children were mesmerized by the musicians, allowing for a fluid and responsive class.

After following the journey of one particular infant, Sarah Bucek, from the Orange County Rescue Mission, observed: “When I took [him] from the room last week, he leaned toward the music (when barely audible) and brightened up when he realized that he was hearing the viola. The mothers have also noticed the difference in the baby’s attitude when music was playing. They are calmer and more attentive.”

Violist Riley reflects, “It was a fantastic experience to be included in the Village of Hope project. Being able to play live music in a program that celebrates the brain dance of a child’s early transformative years is both fascinating and satisfying. This program further solidified the importance of early childhood music education as well as a necessary component of the mother and child bonding experience.”

The extent to which the Symphony musicians explored the effects of music and its influence on health and wellness brought inspiring results. The Symphony plans to expand this work in the coming year, and is continuing to develop an additional pilot program with The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, expected to launch this fall.

Heartstrings is composed of a variety of social services organizations throughout the community that have been working in tandem with the Symphony to provide free access to concerts, hands-on enrichment activities and transportation to underserved local residents in partnership. It was inspired by the vision of the Symphony’s Music Director Carl St.Clair, who has insisted that access to great music is a birthright. The Symphony strives to be a socially engaged organization that’s fully interwoven into the fabric of Orange County and able to address societal needs with clear relevance and value for all people. By expanding our expertise beyond the concert hall and collaborating with the health and wellness sector, the Symphony is better able to address the needs of the greater community.