Mindful Music Moments

Imagine an entire school – students, teachers, and administrators – taking time each morning to turn inward together, and listen to a brief mindfulness prompt and world-class music.

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We Are Ancestors Too

This month, I attended my first League of American Orchestras conference in Houston, TX. Orchestras, composers, artists, and arts administrators from around the country gathered to talk about how orchestras are adapting, thriving, and dreaming big in education, new audience engagement, and diversifying artists, programs, and styles to meet a modern world.

I was most captivated by the wisdom and call to action by Keynote Speaker, composer Gabriela Lena Frank who challenged the room of over 1,000 attendees to consider ourselves as living ancestors. "We are ancestors too. Can we have reverence for the past, and more for the future?"

A hand holding a program with the Houston city skyline and text that reads

We are ancestors too. Can we have reverence for the past, and more for the future?

Gabriela Lena Frank, Composer, Keynote Speaker at League of American Orchestras 2024

It was illuminating to realize how often we teach the stories and music of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach as if we have more reverence for their work than we do our own. As much as I feel a deep connection to Bach's Cello Suites (of course as a cellist) and Beethoven's Pastorale (my childhood love of Fantasia), I've never considered what it means to not be able to reference my favorite piece for solo cello or orchestral symphony from the century I'm living in. I love listening to the great composers of Baroque and Romantic eras on symphony stages, throughout my day in my headphones, or on my CD player at home (future blog post about my CD/vinyl collection of classical music), but what I think Lena Frank was getting at is that this constant reverence and reinforcement of music from the past undervalues the plethora of artistry and meaningful stories by 21st composers and ourselves.

Composers (L-R) Gabriela Lena Frank, Autumn Maria Reed, Jennifer Higdon, Leanna Primiani bow after an all-women composers concert by ROCO.

Michelle Cann stands behind a podium next to a reflective black grand piano.

Pianist Michelle Cann leads a session on "Exploring Underrepresented Composers"

Ben and Bryce smile and take a selfie together with conference badges on.

Our partner from Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, Ben Kipp (Left)

Matthew, Bryce, and Rachel stand together and smile wearing their Conference bades.

Our partners from the Canton Symphony Orchestra, Matthew Jaroszewicz (Left) and Rachel Hagemeier (Right)

The call to start telling more of our own stories in classical music could not have come at a more crucial time. During a nationwide epidemic of loneliness and isolation (2023), music has the power to reconnect us through storytelling, activism, and belonging. Seeing stories of today being performed on stages, online, or in our headphones is life-affirming and motivating to continue belonging and contributing to a society. A marketing flyer in my conference swag bag must have been thinking the same thing. It reads "In a world seemingly made for the eyes, the invisible can yet connect us." They were advertising their acoustics consulting services, but I think they were tapping into something deeper about how we absorb culture and feel a sense of belonging in our communities.

Between working on my computer at the office, watching TV when I'm home, and scrolling through my phone every hour in between, the way that I interpret news, culture, trends, and zeitgeist of today is through a visual medium. Music is certainly a part of that, adding an immersive, noise-canceling soundtrack experience to our endless scroll; but when you remove the visual element to focus on music alone, something different happens in my brain. At first, my attention feels scattered, constantly seeking something new to grasp, interpret, or judge; but after a few minutes, I really begin to tune into what I'm listening to and feel more in sync with the rhythms and melodies. My attention becomes more focused and generally at ease. In addition to music's known benefits on mental health and well-being, shared listening experiences are powerful tools for creating community and connection. A shared love (or distaste) of music can spark a conversation between strangers, invite dialogues about history and identity, and even change the trajectory of lives. And there's no better music to find (re)connection to the present moment than music created by the storytellers living among us: living composers.

Hannah and Bryce smile for a selfie, wearing their conference bades.

Our partner from The Cleveland Orchestra, Hannah Muzzi (Left)

Five adult musicians playing various woodwind instruments perform onstage with a dozen 8 to 10 year-olds playing string instruments.

WindSync performs with the Houston Youth Symphony's Coda Program for string students grades 3 through 5.

The Well's signature program, Mindful Music Moments – our national-reaching daily listening program for schools that fuses mindfulness practices and 3 minutes of orchestral, jazz, world, and new music – has always uplifted living composers' contemporary music and new music commissions since 2016, but that was often only 1-3 weeks out of the year in which we feature over 40 unique selections. Over the years, diversifying music beyond the classical past/white/European canon has steadily increased, but not as dramatically as we would hope. This year's League of American Orchestras Gold Baton winner Lee Koonce said to that same crowd of orchestra professionals that "we are decades behind other arts institutions in terms of community engagement and relevance." I would largely agree. There is amazing work being done across the country by orchestras to make audiences feel more included in the music and by the musicians onstage, but as I heard several times throughout the conference, "it's not enough." There needs to be more urgency and it needs to happen now. 

It's important that people feel seen in the art forms they engage with, and, in our case, that youth hear and envision themselves in the music they listen to every day during Mindful Music Moments. One of my favorite quotes we received from a teacher in Pittsburgh this year spoke about this, saying "The children particularly like learning the names of the composers, which was surprising to me. I show them photos of the composers. The children often want to know if the composer is alive today."

This past school year was the first year we created specific benchmarks for race/ethnicity representation, directly based on the self-reported student demographics of our participating schools. Creating and exceeding some of these benchmarks has been a joy in discovering an untapped treasure trove of 20th and 21st century music by women and composers of color–none of whom I recall being taught in my K-12 schooling. (Imagine learning about Florence Price, Amy Beach, or Astor Piazzolla in kindergarten!) And after this conference, I'm inspired to add more benchmarks for consistently representing living composers. While, admittedly, not every benchmark has been met and there is work to do (especially for Latinx, Asian, and Native American composers), we know that increasing diversity of composers in Mindful Music Moments has had an immediate benefit for both educators and students and will always be part of our organizational values.

I'm thrilled that this upcoming year of Mindful Music Moments will feature over 30 selections by living composers including Brian Raphael Nabors (The Well's Wonder Commission), Jodie Blackshaw, Peter Boyer, José Manuel Ortega Caballo, Anna Clyne, Chris Dingman, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Jenn Howd & Ben Sloan (The Well's Field Recording Project), Allison Loggins-Hull, Cait Nishimura, and more.

The time to tell our stories is now, so that future generations can remember, celebrate, and feel belonging to the stories and music of their ancestors.

Have a music/composer recommendation or a new idea for Mindful Music Moments? I would love to hear! Please contact me.

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Our programs have been nourishing the community since 2005. In 2019, we became the non-profit, A Mindful Moment.


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