Tag Archives: Music

2020 Classical Roots Honoree Chacona Baugh: A fierce advocate of African American classical musicians

Chacona Baugh

Baugh was in her mid-20s when she began gaining an appreciation for — which later became a love of — classical music. That’s when she began accompanying her then-boyfriend Arthur Johnson, a fierce lover of classical music, to Detroit Symphony Orchestra performances.

In 1978 Johnson took Baugh to the inaugural Classical Roots concert, a festive affair at Detroit’s Bethel A.M.E. church. Johnson, along with DSO assistant general manager Wayne Brown, chorus leader Brazeal Dennard, and several other African-American arts and cultural leaders imagined a new type of orchestra event: one that feted African-American conductors and the work of African-American composers.

“Bethel was packed. It was standing room only,” Baugh remembers. So Classical Roots became an annual affair, first at Bethel A.M.E. and later at the much larger Orchestra Hall. “I looked forward to it every year,” Baugh says. “You would see a range of conductors, and it was a great celebration of contributions of African-Americans.”

Baugh later married Johnson, who served on the DSO board for more than 30 years and made Classical Roots his biggest priority. He wanted to do more than just hold performances he wanted to raise money that supports the work of African-American musicians and composers, evolving Classical Roots from a concert to a mission. Johnson passed away in 2011, but Baugh is continuing her late husband’s legacy as an avid DSO supporter and Classical Roots champion. She was thrilled when the annual event was renamed the Arthur L. JohnsonHonorable Damon Jerome Keith Classical Roots Celebration in 2019 (thanks to Honoree Dr. William F. Pickard, who doubled his support and asked that it be named in honor of two of his greatest mentors).

Baugh works closely with the Classical Roots Steering Committee and chaired it in 2011 and 2012. She also served on the DSO’s Board of Directors. Something she’s especially proud of is the work she’s done to expand the Classical Roots mission beyond the confines of Orchestra Hall by developing initiatives that take artists to area schools and churches. She has also worked to encourage younger people to take an interest in Classical Roots and the world of orchestral music.

“It’s exciting to see how the committee has grown and how future generations are learning about classical music and working to sustain the work of classical musicians who happen to be African American,” Baugh says. “It’s important that our young people are exposed to the arts. I didn’t have that growing up.”

She also points to the DSO’s honoree African-American Orchestra Fellowship as a meaningful initiative supported by Classical Roots. “Getting into a major orchestra is difficult,” she says, and young African-American musicians don’t always have the resources necessary to pursue music as a career. The Fellowship aims to address the underrepresentation of African-American musicians in orchestras by selecting young musicians to perform with the DSO and receive audition and career mentorship. “It gives them an opportunity to play classical music with our world-renowned symphony,” Baugh explains – and that opportunity can be a gamechanger.

Classical music isn’t Baugh’s only passion, though it did connect her with violinist Harold Baugh, whom she married in 2016. She loves the arts in general. Baugh has also served on the boards of the Detroit Institute of Arts, CultureSource, the Arts League of Michigan, and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. “The arts are important to me, and they make a difference to our well-being and to our community,” she says.

Baugh is also enthusiastic about higher education. As a longtime fundraising lead at the University of Michigan, she worked with every department and school. “I always liked being on campus where learning was going on,” she says. “I wasn’t an expert in any of the areas, but I got to see people who were passionate, and I got to learn about the extraordinary work going on. It was almost magical — whether dealing with people or a corporation or a foundation — to see their money doing good, whether it was a providing a scholarship or funding groundbreaking research to help a medical condition.”

She loved the work so much that after retiring from the University of Michigan in 2009 she helped kick off and then run the Detroit Public Schools Foundation.

Then, in 2014, Wayne State University named Baugh president of its foundation and vice president for Development and Alumni Affairs, where she led a successful fundraising campaign before her retirement in 2016.

(This story was originally published by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.)

Music and Our Brains

Christina Rodriguez

By Leslie D. Green

Changing minds and bodies through musical experience

The Ford Motor Company Fund recognizes that creativity and artistic expression enrich lives and inspire innovation and that communities which support and provide access to the arts are stronger for it. In this collection of stories, we share how and why music affects us at all ages and stages of our lives.

Cristina Rodriguez, on the right, holding a ukelele, and Lauren Koff, third from left, holding a green microphone with Mind&Melody music enrichment specialists. Photo by Amanda Smith Photography

As a young student, Cristina Rodriguez adored music. But when a teacher announced a donation of instruments would allow her school to start an orchestra, she was unsure what to expect.

Then Rodriguez picked up the cello. And soon, she was smitten.

In high school, Rodriguez discovered the string instrument wasn’t the only thing that charmed her. She was fascinated by the way music touched people’s brains: How all the members of the orchestra had high grade-point averages; how most of the students in her honors and AP courses participated in the arts; and how time seemed to stop when she created music and played her cello.

“You are present the whole time you are playing and can’t really worry about anything,” Rodriguez said. In her teens, she volunteered at hospitals and conceived of various ways to share with others the comfort music gave her.

Years later, while working on her thesis for degrees in biochemistry and pre-med at Florida Atlantic University, Rodriguez found a way to combine her loves of music and medical science to help those in need.

In 2014, she and classmate Lauren Koff founded Mind&Melody to bring interactive music programs to individuals experiencing neurological impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism and Down syndrome. Based in Miami, Fla., the nonprofit engages musicians who perform music that represents patients’ favorite eras and personal cultures to help reengage their static minds and improve their cognitive and motor skills.

Mind and Melody music specialist demonstrates didgeridoo to elder adults

Ashlie, a Mind&Melody music enrichment specialist, demonstrates the didgeridoo an indigenous Australian instrument to older adults. Participants are fascinated by the sound and shape of the instrument.  Photo by Amanda Smith Photography

“They play a song that brings back memories for the patient,” Rodriguez explained, adding that the brain stores emotional memories in a different way from how it stores regular memories.

While listening to or playing music hasn’t been shown to prevent dementia or cognitive impairments, Rodriguez explained that music can reach hidden areas spared by diseases like Alzheimer’s and help patients reunite with the world around them.

Rodriguez recalled a formerly active married couple whose age-related cognitive difficulties made it difficult for them to connect with people. When the pair started therapy with Mind&Melody, they were able to socialize again.

“It helps them connect better with friends and family,” Rodriguez said. “They talk through music. It keeps their brains active and keeps them socially active.”

Violinist Diane McElfish Helle launched a similar program for the Grand Rapids Symphony. Her Music for Health Initiative at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., partners musicians with medical professionals to provide music therapy for people with myriad health issues. McElfish Helle has called the nonprofit agency her most important endeavor as a professional musician. In 2017, she received the Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras for her work.

Musical chemistry

In addition to creating chemical reactions in the brain, researchers have also found that music produces a sense of comradery, or unity.

Ever notice that it only takes two or three claps to get thousands of people at a concert to synchronize their claps or foot taps on beat?

Research going back to naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin suggests that our ancestors were more fit to mate if they were able to not just feed, protect and provide for a family, but also were able to sing or make music in a pleasant way. Musical abilities, scientists contend, stimulate cohesion, which helped groups hunt for large game, outlast predators, and better survive the savage world where survival most often only was for the fittest.

Now, music-generated cohesion plays a role in community building and work productivity, according to four economists from Cornell University. They examined music’s impact on cooperation by having three groups of participants make decisions based on how much they would or would not pool resources with other people in the lab.

Kevin Kniffin, co-author of the 2016 study, reported music in the workplace can cause conflicts if people dislike the selections played. However, Kniffin said his research team found “a rhythm that was a common qualifier of happy music” and streamed that for one group. At the same time, they streamed unhappy music for the second group and did not stream any music for the control group.

Kniffin and the Cornell researchers found that those who received the established happy music had better moods and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior. Meanwhile, the control group, which heard no music, and those who heard unhappy music, were less inclined to cooperate with colleagues.

Regardless of one’s workplace, medical diagnosis, age or stage of life, Mind&Melody’s Rodriguez said an important “chemical thing” happens when you listen to music, play an instrument or sing.

“If you’re having a terrible day or month, music is comforting,” Rodriguez said. “It can bring you back and ground you.”


Music’s Physical Benefits

Music initiates brainstem responses that normalize heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance, and muscle tension in people of all ages, according to Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin, authors of a 2013 study conducted at McGill University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Infants and children

• By routinely playing familiar music to premature babies, who are prone to neurodevelopmental disorders that include learning difficulties, doctors can enhance connectivity in the brain, according to researchers at the University of Geneva and University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland.

• Music therapy has been shown to help children with cancer cope with the stress of treatment by improving mood and relaxation and reducing exhaustion and anxiety.

• People begin developing affection for music in the womb through exposure to their mother’s heartbeat. And learning rhythms and melodies begins during the third trimester of development.

• A few years of music practice thickens part of the corpus callosum, a band of nerve fibers dividing the brain’s left and right hemispheres and integrates sensory processing between the two. As a result, music and musical training can foster academic and life skills in children.

Aging and neurological disorders

• The Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, recently completed a 12-week study where 24 people with Parkinson’s disease played the guitar. They found the patients’ shaky hands, moods and levels of anxiety improved. Moreover, patients who participated in a study involving drum circle classes and choir singing lessons reported having a better quality of life, including enhanced communication with loved ones because of the classes.

• Group drumming counteracted age-related deterioration of immune functioning, in one study Chanda and Levitin cited.

• Music therapy creates entrainment, a simultaneous activation of neurons in disparate parts of the brain. So, even if we are not tapping, clapping, playing or singing along to music, scientists have found that our brains recognize and keep up with the beat. Knowing this, researchers are looking at how they can individualize the use of music in medicine to help people with motor-system disorders, like Parkinson’s.

Heart health

• Medical trials around the country have found that listening to music can help people to exercise longer during cardiac stress tests, cause heart rate and blood pressure to return more quickly to baseline levels after physical activity and alleviate anxiety in heart attack survivors.


• Scientists are exploring whether music played during surgery causes surgical teams to provide better care or whether the music is directly helping patients, even those under anesthesia. Either way, music played during surgery and post-surgery has been found to improve moods by decreasing cortisol levels and reduce sedation, pain and infections.

This story was originally published at fordfund.org. The Ford Motor Company Fund supports a range of music-rich programming, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, the Sphinx Organization, The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the League of American Orchestras in Washington, D.C., the GRAMMY Museum’s GRAMMY in the Schools program and Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation’s Latin GRAMMY in The Schools program.

Read more about why music matters

Music Matters: Here’s Why

Kurton Harrison

By Leslie D. Green 

The power to change lives

The Ford Motor Company Fund recognizes that creativity and artistic expression enrich lives and inspire innovation and that communities which support and provide access to the arts are stronger for it. In this collection of stories, we share how and why music affects us at all ages and stages of our lives.

Kurton Harrison III was a quiet child, who met most of his developmental milestones. Yet, he didn’t make eye contact and he didn’t talk. He also was sensitive to loud noises and certain sensations. Warm water caused him burning pain.

After years of taking her son to fruitless doctors’ appointments, LaJuana Harrison finally received the diagnosis. Five-year-old Kurton had Autism Spectrum Disorder, a developmental condition that affects behavior and communication. The doctor reported Kurton would doubtless end up in a group home.

Kurton Harrison III in the JEDI Jazz Recording Studio

Kurton Harrison III, of the Jazz Educators of Detroit Jazz Ensemble, in the recording studio.Photo by Jeff Dunn

Despite the negative prognosis, LaJuana Harrison, her husband and her mother dedicated much of the next year to painstakingly teach Kurton to speak. And although they succeeded in getting him to speak, Ms. Harrison said music is what taught her son to live.

MSU Community Music School-Detroit

Shortly after asking for a trumpet at age 7, Kurton began attending the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, where other children bullied him. When he was 12, he began attending the Aspiring Musicians Program (AMP) Camp at the MSU Community Music School-Detroit (CMS-D), an independent affiliate of Michigan State University that offers music classes and therapy.

Kurton Harrison’s hard work, his family’s perseverance and the support they received through the network of music are paying off. Harrison graduated from the Detroit School of the Arts in June and will attend Oberlin Conservatory of Music this fall on a full scholarship.

Music on the brain

Music’s impact on Kurton Harrison aligns with years of research by scientific researchers and academic experts who have found that music increases productivity, advances learning, boosts self-esteem, and helps heal bodies and minds. These are some of the reasons militaries use music to improve coordination, surgeons use it to heighten concentration, physicians use it to rehabilitate patients and parents use it to calm infants.

Neurologist Alexander Pantelyat, who studies the effects of music on the body, is the founder and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Pantelyat explained that music — whether listened to, played or sung — activates more parts of the brain than any other physical activity. As a result, music can improve social behavior, such as eye contact, and social interaction, notably between children with autism and their parents.

Lauren Koff

Lauren Koff (left) and Cristina Rodriquez, co-founders of Miami-based Mind&Melody Inc.

“People on an autism spectrum might be hypersensitive to lighting, touch and sounds,” Cristina Rodriguez, president and co-founder of Miami-based Mind&Melody Inc. said. “Music is probably one of those things that doesn’t feel so intense and can bring comfort.”

Kurton Harrison agreed. “Music never hurts, even when it makes you emotional,” he said. “It can be a cure, any time, any place.”

Harrison, who also participated in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Youth programs, said that music also teaches diligence. “My mindset changed (because of) music,” he said. “I was in an environment where I didn’t want to fail. You have to study and you have to practice. Music is hard work.”

Banding together

Learning to sing or play an instrument in a classroom setting can also lift children, emotionally and economically, out of poverty, researchers have found.

In 2017, the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation in collaboration with the Ford Motor Company Fund held a Latin GRAMMY in the Schools program at Miami Senior High School as part of their initiative to give music students an opportunity to learn about the music industry.

Since 2014, the partnership has donated more than $360,000 in musical instruments to more than 6,000 students in U.S. cities, such as Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York and in Argentina, Mexico City and the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.

Miami Senior High band students performed as part of the 2017 event. The opportunity was “a big shot in the arm” for the teens, said band director Michele Fernández Denlinger. She said the kids felt like professionals playing a Latin jazz salsa under stage the lights.

Even more impactful, however, were the $20,000 in new instruments the school received as part of the event, she said.

“Our instruments had been taped and tied together,” Denlinger said. “But there are only certain things you can do with an inferior instrument.”

The data show more than 80 percent of students at Miami Senior High School live in disadvantaged communities. However, Denlinger said they can escape that through music, especially if they have the right instruments.

“Having a good instrument creates opportunities for someone who is inspired to play music,” she said.

Denlinger recalled one student who lived in the middle of Miami’s Little Havana community. “They had absolutely nothing,” Denlinger said, “But, he got full ride to play tuba at Yale.”

A sense of belonging accompanies being in a band or a choir and that feeling contributes to a child’s emotional growth and ability to succeed in every facet of life, Denlinger said.

“Imagine a teenager with all these self-esteem issues and home life issues who finds a place where they are part of something, a place where they are getting cheers, they are doing solos, and getting support,” Denlinger said. “Once you get them to feel like they are a vital part of something, like a band, it inspires them. Kids with social anxiety come out of their shells. Kids who didn’t have anyone to talk to at home find a family.”

That bond helped Denlinger’s family heal after the death of her son in 2002.

“Getting back into band (in 2006) helped me get back to me because being able to play music is intoxicating in a good way,” Denlinger said. “Music healed my whole family.”

Violinist Anita Dumar found kinship with the Sphinx Organization, where she volunteers while attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Sphinx Organization is a Detroit-based nonprofit that helps find, develop and promote young classical string players of Black and Latinix heritage. Working to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in classical music, the Sphinx Organization has received support from organizations that include the Ford Fund.

“Sphinx provides a community of people who look like you and are talking about issues in your field,” Dumar said.

The Sphinx society also gave Dumar a goal.

“As a young person, I saw what was going on in the world and thought, ‘I’m just sitting in my room practicing, what good am I doing?'” Dumar said. “But Sphinx shows that what I do affects what happens with underrepresented musicians. Music gave me a purpose that fit me. Losing music would be like losing a part of myself.”

Notes of hope

Richard White was literally lost.

“Every day was about finding food and trying to find my mom,” White said.

Dr. Richard White with tuba at dusk from documentary film, R.A.W.

Dr. Richard Antoine White during production of the documentary film, R.A.W. Photo by John Waire

Born prematurely to a mom who suffered from alcoholism, White started his life homeless on the streets of Baltimore.

During a snow storm one night, a 4-year-old White crawled into an entryway to stay warm. Miraculously, a stranger found him and contacted his mother’s adoptive parents, Richard and Vivian McClain. They took White in; but, he wouldn’t speak to the McClains beyond saying the basics like, “Thank you, yes, no, please, hello and goodbye.”

Still, the McClains were supportive. They gave White a trumpet when he was in fourth grade and then threatened to take it away if he didn’t improve his grades.

“I never got a failing grade again,” White said. “The trumpet gave me a voice, it belonged to me.”

Musicians process music as another language, scientists have discovered. In addition, experts have found that knowing multiple languages makes learning subsequent languages easier. The ties between music and language help explain how Kurton Harrison can play multiple instruments and why it was easy for Richard White to not only play the trumpet, but to switch to the sousaphone, an instrument in the tuba family.

Music opened doors for Richard White. When he showed up at the Baltimore School of the Arts and requested an audition – one day after auditions ended – administrators saw the 15-year-old’s passion and gave him a chance anyway.

One hard-fought opportunity turned into another. Eventually, White earned a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Today, White is an associate Marching Band director at the University of New Mexico. He also is principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic and founding member and principal tubist for the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Music became the thing that made the impossible possible,” White said. “I went from surviving to living. Without it, I would have stayed lost.”

Music Helps Us Learn by

    • creating a desired atmosphere
    • building a sense of anticipation
    • energizing learning activities
    • changing brain wave states
    • focusing concentration
    • increasing attention
    • improving memory
    • facilitating a multisensory learning experience
    • releasing tension
    • enhancing imagination
    • aligning groups
    • developing rapport
    • providing inspiration and motivation
    • adding an element of fun

Source: LifeSounds Educational Services

This story was originally published on fordfund.org. The Ford Motor Company Fund supports a range of music-rich programming, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, the Sphinx Organization, The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the League of American Orchestras in Washington, D.C., the GRAMMY Museum’s GRAMMY in the Schools program and Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation’s Latin GRAMMY in The Schools program.

Read more about Kurton Harrison and Richard White.