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Classical Music

The brain makes beautiful music: Lois Svard will speak at the Taubman Piano Festival at MSU

in Arts/Classical Music/Music

Taubman Piano Festival
Friday-Sunday, June 23-25
Cali School of Music

“Neuroscience and Piano
Dr. Lois Svard
Friday, June 23, 1-2:15 p.m., G-55
Montclair State University
1 Normal Ave.

Information: Artistic Director
David Witten, or 973-652-4217


If you love music, you’re probably right-brained. Scientists, with their love of facts and figures, are left-brained.

Except not.

Lois Svard, who will speak on “Neuroscience and Piano Performance” at the Dorothy Taubman Festival at Montclair State University on June 23, says that though popular culture books used to break down creativity that way, when she began looking into it, reading articles by neuroscientists, she learned that music is actually processed throughout the brain.

And the notion that the brain is really only plastic, or flexible, as a small child? Not true either.

“We continue to change through life in response to learning, experience or injury,” Svard says. “We can constantly rewire the brain.”

Svard explores neuroscience and music in a blog she writes titled “The Musician’s Brain.” She has received an NEA Award for Arts Commentary and Perspectives on the Arts.

The Taubman Festival, in which Svard is participating for the first time, honors the late Dorothy Taubman (1917-2013), a piano pedagogue who stressed playing without pain. The festival includes master classes, demonstrations and free evening recitals on Friday and Saturday.

Pianist Sondra Tammam will speak on “Level 2 Octaves with Speed and No Fatigue,” and Jacqueline Herbein will lead interactive sessions on relaxing and “Building Dynamic Alignment at the Piano.”

David Witten, head of the piano program at MSU, will give a lecture on “physical concepts at the keyboard and single rotation.”
Witten said in an email that the idea to bring in Svard came from Marilyn Somville, formerly dean of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, who pointed out that neuroscience and neuroplasticity are becoming important components for musicians.

Svard has spent most of her life as a performing pianist, performing new American music. It was at Bucknell University, where she taught from 1984 to 2011, that she became interested in the creative process, and designed an interdisciplinary program for seniors about it.
She took some undergraduate neuroscience courses at the school. The jargon was challenging, she said, but “it’s like learning a different language.

“Neuroscientists say that making music is the most complex cognitive activity a human engages in, using sensory, auditory, motor, and all kinds of cognitive skills. Lots of areas of the brain are involved.”

Though scientists have been studying the subject for at least 30 years, the information hasn’t been reaching musicians, because scientists publish in scientific journals and go to scientific conferences, Svard said, adding that there are many applications of the study.

For example, the way we practice an instrument can be tweaked. “Simply repeating something over and over again does not encourage strong plasticity in the brain.

“Research has found repetition, whether with languages or motor skills like playing the piano, is the least efficient way to practice. You’re using short-term memory. You want to get something to move into long-term memory in the brain, and you have to use different strategies to do that.

“For example, if you’re learning a piece of music, practice a little bit of one section, then switch to another section. You constantly force the brain to work to try to remember. When doing that, you’re encouraging the formation of the neural circuits that have to do with that piece of music.”

Of course, you still have to repeat a lot, Svard said, but many students, particularly young ones, merely repeat a piece from beginning to end over and over.

“You have to be able to start in lots of different places in a piece of music. Musicians often refer to those as landmarks.”

Dorothy Taubman, with Rose Cali. Courtesy David Witten.

Connecting to the Taubman approach, Svard pointed out that musicians don’t just wire a piece of music into their brains, but their movement as well, and how they physically approach their instruments.

“We can wire in injuries. So if we routinely practice with a lot of stress, or not a very healthy approach to the instrument, then that gets wired in.” Neural pathways in the brain reinforce those unhealthy ways of playing, she said.

“You can change that wiring in your brain. If you’ve learned the wrong notes or rhythms you can change the wiring and correct that.”
Though Svard doesn’t have a degree in neuroscience, she pointed out that neuroscientists who study music usually don’t have a degree in music.

Combining neuroscience and music is a trend, she said, with more and more music students interested in neuroscience and more neuroscientists looking at the music connection.

Scientists have learned that human beings are hard-wired for music just as they are for language, Svard said. “It’s a very natural human instinct to be involved with music, to listen, sing, move to music.

“Musicians talk about anatomy, how we use our fingers, our arms, our muscles, to create a beautiful sound. We talk about relaxation and tension. We don’t talk about the brain. The brain controls our muscles. It sorts through all the information that enters the brain through all our senses.

“The brain is really where practicing happens.”

Playing piano on Father’s Day in Montclair, for a cause

in Arts/Classical Music/Music
The students of Thomas Parente will play for Toni’s Kitchen on Sunday. Courtesy Thomas Parente.

The young piano students of Thomas Parente will perform in a fundraiser for Toni’s Kitchen on Sunday, June 18, at 1:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, 67 Church St. Freewill donations will be accepted at the door.

The program will consist of selections by Chopin, Ravel, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and others. Parente is an associate professor of piano at Westminster Choir College and author of “The Positive Pianist: How Flow can Bring Passion to Practice and Performance.”
A reception will immediately follow the concert.

MSU to host sixth annual Dorothy Taubman Piano Festival

in Arts/Classical Music/Music

The sixth Dorothy Taubman Piano Festival will take place at the Cali School on the campus of Montclair State University the weekend of

June 23-25.

Dorothy Taubman (1917-2013) was a piano pedagogue who stressed playing without pain. The two evening piano recitals are free and open to the public. The first, on Friday, June 23, at 8, will present students and alumni of the Cali School of Music. The second one, Saturday, June 24, at 8, will be a solo recital by the Chinese pianist Yilan Zhao.

Lois Svard, a pianist and neuroscientist, will discuss the relationship between neuroscience and piano playing on on Friday, June 23, at 1 p.m. Robert Shannon, head of the piano department of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, will give a two-hour piano master class on Saturday at 2:15.

There will be lectures, workshops, and hands-on demonstrations of the Taubman Approach to piano playing. For more information visit

For more information, contact the festival’s artistic director David Witten, at or call 973-652-4217.

Schola Cantorum on Hudson performs in Montclair

in Arts/Classical Music/Music
Schola Cantorum on Hudson perform at Immaculate Conception in Montclair, conducted by Deborah Simpson King. Courtesy Schola Cantorum on Hudson.

On Sunday, May 21, at 5 p.m., Schola Cantorum on Hudson will premiere choral works by Robert Schuneman and Wayne Eastwood, and present two compositions by the late Stephen Paulus, Grammy Award-winning American composer of classical music.

Artistic Director Deborah Simpkin King, Ph.D., conducts.

Schola Cantorum on Hudson describes the concert as “a musical tribute to human ingenuity as the answer to the world’s need for energy and a clean environment.”

The concert will also include performances of compositions from such composers as Ivo Antognini, Janet Lanier, Philip W. J. Stopford, and Don Wyrtzen.

The concert takes place at Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave. For tickets or for more information, visit or call 888-407-6002, ext. 5.

Montclair’s ‘Dance on the Lawn’ lineup named

in Arts/Classical Music/Dance

Dance on the Lawn has announced the lineup for its fourth annual free dance event, to be held this year on Saturday, Sept. 9. The event will include11 dance companies and schools from New Jersey and New York. Lauren Connolly, winner of DOTL’s 2017 “Emerging Commissioned New Jersey Choreographer,” will present a new work created specifically for Dance on the Lawn. New Jersey Schools appearing are FutureSTEP Tap Company; Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts; DanceWorks & Co.; and New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble.

New Jersey companies are: Freespace Dance (Montclair); Dance Therapy (Newark); 10 Hairy Legs (Highland Park); Robert Mark Dance (Hoboken). Robert Mark Burke, artistic director of Robert Mark Dance, appears through Dance on the Lawn’s mentorship program. Participating New York companies are Project 44 Dance and Stephen Petronio Company. Troy Powel, artistic director of Ailey II, will also present.

Montclair resident Charmaine Warren founded Dance on the Lawn in 2014. Dance on the Lawn will take place on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 3 to 5 p.m., at 73 South Fullerton Ave., outside of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. For more information visit

Montclair: Oratorio Society of New Jersey performers keep singing

in Classical Music/Music

When they sing, they feel free.
Uplifted. Inspired.
And challenged.
Definitely challenged.

Laughter came from three long-time members of Oratorio Society of New Jersey as they talked about the challenge of learning Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” for OSNJ’s concert at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, April 1.

Poulenc’s piece was written in 1950 to commemorate the death of his friend Christian Bérard. OSNJ will also perform two Magnificats, by composers Antonio Vivaldi and Giovanni Pergolesi.

Singers Susan Ladov, Don Moore and Ernestine Galloway have each been with the choir more than 15 years.

The Poulenc is dissonant and difficult to learn, they all agreed. Ladov and Moore spoke on a conference call.
Moore, 78, a past president of OSNJ, said that the Poulenc is more challenging than works they’ve done in a while, and for the first time he’s been rehearsing at home with his piano. He and current president Ladov, 70, also mentioned such resources for choral singers as

OSNJ is an unusual chorus: anyone can join so long as they can read music. There are no auditions.
And yet, said the singers, the professionalism is very high.
It’s the challenge, in part, that keeps OSNJ members so loyal to the group.
Ladov has sung with the Oratorio Society for 25 years. Galloway said she has been with the group “since the ’70s.”
The Oratorio Society was founded in 1952; the current director is Sándor Szabó.

Moore called himself the “newbie,” with just 17 years.

The three Montclairites take music seriously.

“I love singing,” said Ladov. “I enjoy the whole process of preparing pieces.” She originally joined the group through a friend, she said.

Galloway said, “I sing for friends, and anyone who will listen.” She occasionally gives concerts in town. She joined OSNJ because, initially, she wanted to join a group she could walk to if she had to.

Moore, a retired professor of English, heard about OSNJ through another member.
“There’s the impression the music makes on choir people itself,” he said. “There’s an indelible aesthetic impression to be able to rehearse a piece for 10 or 12 weeks and then perform it.” Listening to a piece on the radio is not at all the same thing, he said.

The group generally rehearses once a week for 10 weeks, with longer rehearsals with the orchestra and soloists the week before the concert. The soloists and orchestra are professionals.

Ladov, who is on the board of Aging in Montclair (AIM), a not-for-profit organization that advocates for Montclair’s senior residents, said that singing with OSNJ connects to some of the issues that AIM talks about: “Staying connected. Developing new social networks. My social life has expanded through things like OSNJ and AIM. Keeping connected is always important, but especially as we get older.”

You don’t have to be Christian to connect to the pieces based on Christian liturgy, she said: “There’s something transcendent about the beauty, the feeling and emotion conveyed in the pieces.”

For Moore, who is a Christian, singing works that express his beliefs becomes “an exhilarating spiritual experience. It’s jubilation.”

Galloway also feels uplifted in the group: “When we’re doing work with the choral group, the magnitude of the music that we’ve done, it’s an uplifting feeling. It’s very freeing,” she said.

Getting to the performance requires hard work. But it’s worth it in the end.

Ladov said she that while she liked learning some pieces more than others, “if the performance goes well there’s a certain satisfaction in it. I always try to find something to connect with in the music.”

Moore said, “I feel like we’re fighting for a cause. We’re fighting for these wonderful choral classics.”

Galloway used to sing in her church choir. She no longer does, but thinks that even if she did, she’d stay with OSNJ because “even though it’s amateur, it feels professional to me.”

As for that Poulenc?

Galloway said, “It’s interesting. I think initially we didn’t like it. It’s very difficult. But now I think it’s growing on us, and it sounds very exciting.”


An earlier version of this article misstated how often OSNJ rehearses.

When: Saturday, April 1, 8 p.m.

Where: Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave.

Music by French and Italian composers, on the theme of the Biblical Mary

Montclair to have standing orchestra

in Classical Music


Andre Weker, Montclair Orchestra’s president, left, looks on as the orchestra’s Music Director David Chan practices conducting.
Montclair will soon have its own standing orchestra.
Not a small chamber group, but a proper orchestra, led by a conductor/music director who is the concert master, or top violinist, of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
David Chan, of Closter, is The Montclair Orchestra’s new conductor. Andre Weker, of Montclair, is the group’s president. It was Weker who came up with the concept and is responsible for the administrative side of the new group. The orchestra’s debut concert will take place in the fall of 2017, but Montclairites can learn about the group sooner: The two men will discuss the orchestra on Sunday, March 12, at 3 p.m., at the Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave. Quartet 212 of the New York metropolitan Opera Orchestra will perform. The event is free, but tickets are required. As of Monday, the event is sold out- but according to a post on the group’s Facebook site, they will be live streaming the event.
About a year ago, Weker said, he began having conversations with people in town that went this way: “We have all this culture in town — music, culture, the art museum, the Montclair Film Festival — but not a standing orchestra. The light started to click for a number of people I spoke to, who said, ‘That’s incredible, how do we not have an orchestra?’ We have all sorts of programs with amazing music coming through, but not a standing orchestra.” Weker, who studied bassoon at Boston University, has been a stay-at-home parent since 2010. Before that, he was in the environmental remediation industry, he said.
The two men spoke to the Local at Chan’s home, before he had to depart for rehearsal.
Montclair does have musical groups come through town — but not so many orchestras as you might think, Weker said. The New York Philharmonic used to come, but doesn’t now. Montclair State University has student orchestras, but there isn’t a regular visit by a professional group.
“For me, one of the things I’m trying to do is ground things in Montclair,” Weker said.
Chan agreed, adding, “Another key point is that when you build a new ensemble, you have an opportunity to connect with audiences that might not have previously attended concerts.” Like New Yorkers who never take the time to visit the Statue of Liberty, Montclairites may know symphony orchestras are out there and just never get around to seeing one. Having an orchestra in town will help people connect the music to their community, he said.
The men agreed that having music in intimate venues might also help people appreciate it in a way they might not otherwise.
Weker said the new group may also help people realize that orchestral music is not just Beethoven. The composer of the music to HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Ramin Djawadi, has been touring with his music as “The Game of Thrones Experience” (the concert will come to Madison Square Garden on  Tuesday, March 7.)

Montclair Orchestra’s Music Director David Chan practices conducting in his Closter home.

Before going very far with the orchestra, Weker knew he needed a music director. So he and his board advertised to find a conductor. They received more than 100 applications, some from as far away as Belarus. Chan was announced as the new music director in November 2016. In addition to his work at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra,  Chan is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and the Mannes School of Music.
Where Weker is responsible for the administrative end, Chan will oversee the artistic development of the organization. He will develop the ensemble, program the concerts and commission new works.
“David is our Roderigo,” Weker said with a laugh, referring to the charismatic genius conductor of the Amazon Original series “Mozart in the Jungle.” Chan had co-founded, in 2008,  the Musique & Vin au Clos Veugeot (“music and wine at Clos Veugeot”) festival in France, so had direct experience in programming events and attracting talent to perform.
The dividing line between administrative and artistic roles is blurry, Chan said: “If you don’t have a board or president who cares deeply about music, you’re going to always be fighting an uphill battle.” And a music director like himself needs to be involved with fundraising, attend parties, do interviews, be the face of the organization.
The ensemble Chan oversees will all be paid: some will be professional musicians, some gifted amateurs, and some will be music students. The size of the orchestra will depend on the music and the venue; the smallest chamber orchestra might have 20 to 30 players, and the largest may have about 60 players. On average the orchestra will probably have about 40 musicians. About 150 people signed up to audition, with about 40 more musicians deferred. Chan and Weker want to curate the makeup of the orchestra to be about 40 percent professionals, 30 percent amateur, and 30 percent students, but it will depend on the quality of the players who audition, Chan said. “It will be fluid.”
Weker said he has been pleasantly surprised by the people who are gifted amateurs, such as a person who is a “cardiologist by day but studied bass at Oberlin and plays at a high professional level.”
Many of the auditioners are from Montclair, he said.
Chan said, “Music is like a language, except maybe it’s more universal than any specific spoken language.” It’s a language that many who don’t speak it now may find themselves wanting to learn.


Montclair Orchestra Public Introductory Session and Concert
Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m.
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Ave.

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