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July 2018

This Is Your Brain On Music

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USC’s Dr. Assal Habibi has been studying the brains of 80 kids for five years in the hopes of answering the question: does studying music enhance brain function? We’ll soon find out.

Einstein is famous for his theory of relativity. But, as we saw in the recent series Genius, he was also a gifted violinist. Did that make him a better mathematician and scientist? Specifically, did studying music enhance and change his brain?

That’s what Dr. Assal Habibi, a research scientist at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute wants to find out; she’s using electrophysiologic and neuroimaging methods to investigate human brain function. She’s not using Einstein’s brain (although pieces of it are still in existence), but the brains of 80 children, who have been with the Brain and Music study since 2012, when they were 6 and 7 years old.

One-third of the young subjects, who were told the MRI machine is a spaceship of sorts, are studying music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic youth orchestra (YOLA) at the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA). The study wraps up this summer, so PCMag went to USC to speak with Dr. Habibi and find out how, in the light of the quantified-self movement, music is crucial for brain development.

Los Angeles Philharmonic youth orchestra (YOLA)

Firstly, tell us the original hypothesis of this study.
The idea behind the study was to see whether systematic music training has a measurable impact on the brains of children and the subsequent development of their cognitive skills and social skills.

Who funded this study? Was it the National Institutes of Health?
No, it was funded privately. Some of it from internal sources here at the Brain and Creativity Institute, and some from generous and anonymous donors.

Before we get on to the practicalities of the scientific method, talk about the music part.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic youth orchestra (YOLA) was established in 2007 by the LA Phil’s Music and Artistic Director, Gustavo Dudamel. It serves hundreds of students age 6 to 18, who attend four days each week. Students also perform annually at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, have appeared several times at the iconic Hollywood Bowl and, memorably, accompanied Coldplay at the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show [in 2016].

But this isn’t a conservatory program to find mini Mozarts?
No, the program is not about producing musical prodigies or stars. The children are told the goal is to build a cohesive group that produces beautiful sounds; that when they play, they also help each other, so the orchestra can exist as a singular unit.

Which builds their socio-emotive skillset anyway.
Exactly. Gustavo Dudamel brought the program to LA because he was trained with and inspired by a similar one in his native Venezuela called “El Sistema,” started by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, who recently passed away. This was a social and economic program, not to build great musicians, but to build good citizens.

Great. Let’s go through the practical, scientific aspects of your methods now.
The design of the study includes three groups: one group is systematically studying music with YOLA/HOLA, the other group is doing something equally engaging on a regular basis, but it’s not music-based, it is athletic-based such a soccer or swimming, while the third is a control group.

To clarify, the control group are not studying music or doing anything on a regular basis which might improve their brain?
The participants from the control group, when we started the study, were not about to begin a systematic music or sports training program. We, of course, did not tell them that they can’t but instead every year we interview them and their parents, and if they have been engaged in either of the two activities with the frequency that is comparable to the other two groups, we did not include them in our analysis.

Kid on Guitar, Music

With the three groups allotted, you then established a baseline?
Yes. We did a series of tests, including MRI and an electroencephalography (EEG) to detect electrical activity in the brain, while recording a range of cognitive, social, and behavioral indicators. We found, at age 6 to 7, when we started the study, there were no statistically different results between the three groups of 80 children in total.

How often, during the course of the research study, did you re-test everyone?
We do the MRI scan every other year, on every child, and the other tests, including the EEG every year.

Music BrainAs an aside, how did you get 6-year-olds into a scary MRI machine?
We make it very child-friendly, aesthetically, and we sometimes had to tell them that the scanner is like a supersonic space shuttle. We also do a lot of training and practice sessions with them in a mock scanner to get them comfortable with the space.

So ‘You’re not going into outer space, this is an internal journey to the center of your head?’
Something like that. They also all get a brain scan, framed, to take home.

What are the tests they do inside the MRI?
There are several but a key one identifies decision-making brain region changes. Here’s how it works: they see the word “red” and it’s colored red. But then, when they see it again, the word red is colored green, but we still want them to say the color of the word, in this case “red.” It’s hard because one has to inhibit the original impulse of reading the word and think through the test. Activity related to this inhibition shows up in the frontal regions of the brain responsible for decision-making, and attention circuits in the medial area.

And you saw clear differences between the children studying music and the others? 
We saw stronger brain activation in these frontal regions when comparing the incongruent conditions (word red in color green) to the congruent conditions (red in color red).

What else are you looking for each time?
With the MRI, in addition to functional imaging, we are looking at the structural changes in the brain: growth in the cortical thickness, or the volume of the area, and how the areas are connected to each other through white matter.

Music Brain

You can’t spot a new neural network being formed, though?
No, you cannot actually see a neural network because it’s too small, but you can see the white matter connectivity; for example in the corpus callosum which connects the two hemispheres of the brain. We can see how that changes over time; whether the connectivity is more robust or not, which indicated integration and communication between the two sides of the brain.

As your study is coming to the end of its five-year span, can you give us a sneak peek of your results? Did you prove your hypothesis?
Yes. We’ve just finished testing the last participant and now we are going to release the final year of results for this study. With five years of data, we are now looking for differences between the groups of children in executive function measures such as impulse control, working memory, task switching ability and more.

What’s next for this research study?
We’re also interested in using these results as an indicator of future development. Especially in the brain changes which will act as a preventative mechanism, looking forward to the pressures they’ll have at middle school, and into high school. Then it becomes, not “Do I eat this candy now, or wait?” but “Do I show up to class today?” or “Do I join this peer group which is experimenting with drugs?” i.e. decision making that has an enormous effect on their future.


Singer, composer and music producer Shim Craimer tunes in to ‘aliyah’

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His newest song, “Tziyon,” originally produced as a closing-credits song for an Israeli movie yet to be released, will be set to a music video of his family’s aliyah, produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh. Photo: Shim Craimer performing. Credit: Courtesy.

Shim Craimer, whose dulcet tones and high energy have secured him a place as a sought-after Jewish musical performer, has sung at hundreds of weddings in the New York area and in his native London over the past two decades. But that’s just one of his jobs.

The 40-year-old has utilized his trained tenor voice to work with many fellow Jewish performers; and composed and produced multiple studio recordings, including an “Israel at 60” collaboration with his close friend Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that garnered 3 million hits on YouTube. He’s also featured in several music videos.

He has also worked as music director at SAR Academy, and a music and media instructor at Torah Academy of Bergen County in New Jersey.

In fact, he’s all these things and more. And soon, he is moving to Israel.

His newest song, “Tziyon,” which was originally produced as a closing credits’ song for an Israeli movie that has yet to be released, will be set to a music video of his family’s aliyah, produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh. His family’s move to Israel this summer will be on a charter flight with 232 other North American new immigrants. (The flight is organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Keyemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA.)

Shim Craimer’s newest song, “Tziyon,” originally produced as a closing credits’ song for an Israeli movie that has yet to be released, will be set to a music video of his family’s aliyah. Credit: Courtesy.

Family and career grows

The Craimer family moved to Riverdale, in the Bronx borough of New York City, in 2003. Trained at a music school in London and a member of the Ner Yisroel Community synagogue in Hendon, he served as chazzanat the Edgware United Synagogue—one of the biggest congregations in the United Kingdom—before relocating to the Riverdale Jewish Center after one of its members heard him sing at a friend’s wedding in the United States, and brought him to Riverdale for a Shabbat where he was offered the job that night. He and his wife, Ruthie, had just one child, Uri, at the time. After 15 years, their family now includes twins Ben and Eli, and daughter Mia.

Being part of a community that welcomed the young British couple who were “coming for a year, maximum,” while they waited to see if Craimer’s musical career would take off, he says the years were good to them. The synagogue relationship, in particular, has been amazing, he adds.

“It never felt like a job to work at the Riverdale Jewish Center. Fifteen years later, we are still here,” he says.

Ruthie became a beloved early-childhood teacher at SAR Academy, and her husband’s career as a musician employed day and night reached heights they never imagined, resulting in Craimer’s freelance collaboration with many of New York’s busiest Jewish bands, including Neshoma Orchestra, Kol Play, the Ike Walkover band and Aaron Teitelbaum Orchestra, as well as many fellow cantors and commercially successful Jewish singers. In the past few years, he saw success in his own compositions and musical productions, even incorporating his twin sons to sing on his albums.

This twins sang on his just-released video, “Tzaddik Katamar,” from his latest album “Forever More/Me’atah V’ad Olam.” He released a video to the title track “Forever More” last year. Every song on the album is his own composition.

In fact, the opportunities in New York were so varied and so good, he notes, that it became increasingly difficult to consider going home to London, even as virtually all of Ruthie’s family has made aliyah in the years since. “In the time that we’ve been in Riverdale, we have always had in the back of our minds … Israel. If we had gone in 2003 to Israel, the kesher [community] that I have with the Jewish world would have been very different.”

Shim Craimer with his family at the Western Wall. His family’s aliyah this summer will be on a charter flight with 232 other North American olim. Credit: Courtesy.

Planning for the move to Israel

The Craimers decided to make aliyah when they were visiting Israel last year, deciding they had many family members and friends in Israel that they didn’t want to have anywhere else as a base. Their wish to be closer to family was a key factor in their decision. Craimer’s song “Tziyon” was composed on that trip, and he remembered the moments he wrote it and the thoughts it crystallized. “It’s about how amazing Israel is in my eyes. Nefesh B’Nefesh is sharing it as a video diary of our aliyah,” he says.

They plan to move to Modi’in, in central Israel, where Ruthie aims to open an early-childhood center, or gan. But Craimer’s roots have grown so strong in New York that they’re not pulling up entirely. “I’ve worked out with the Riverdale Jewish Center to come back once a month to daven for Shabbat, and for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and for one Yom Tov a year,” with the flexibility to schedule his smachot and musical gigs in the United States around the weekend he comes to New York. He also plans to stay for an extra Shabbat a few times a year to allow for guest chazzan appearances in other synagogues around the country.

Another benefit of living in Israel is that Craimer will have access to other types of opportunities, in terms of vocal performance and teaching. He is already booked at cantorial concerts, which is a market he didn’t delve into much in the States, and at weddings he is already sought after for what he calls the “chutznik” market. (Chutzniks are English-speaking Israelis or those visiting Israel to make a wedding or bar mitzvah who seek an American-style event.) A band he has worked with often, Kol Play, is now setting up an Israeli office, and will be booking gigs for him in the United States, London and Israel.

Conducting a new children’s chorus

Perhaps the most exciting new aspect of Craimer’s developing career is in conducting and mentoring. He is involved in the early stages of the creation of a new vocal-based program called Shir Ha’Am, a nonprofit chorus following the idea of the Young People’s Chorus, based near Lincoln Center, which was established by Conductor Francisco Núñez for disadvantaged children. Craimer said he was approached by a Chicago-based philanthropist who wants to set up a similar program in Israel.

Craimer was taken with the idea, and is impressed by how well the Young People’s Chorus has done. “It started with seven at-risk kids in the basement of a church. Now it has 450 kids who come there two to three times a week,” he says. “It’s now the hardest choir to be a part of in the United States.”

The concept of the Israeli chorus will be to welcome children ages 10 to 19 who are into music, and who can potentially benefit from instruction, companionship or mentorship opportunities. The plan, he says, is to create three different performance groups: “one for boys, one for girls, and one mixed boys and girls, so we are open to everyone. They will perform at hospitals and rehab centers, and hopefully become self-sustaining and [get] some government funding.”

Is this Craimer’s biggest aspiration, to create such a choir to improve the lives of at-risk youth in Israel? “I am at a different stage now, developing goals. I am still very busy with davening, performing and smachot, but you have to keep evolving. There is a lot more competition in terms of being able to put out as much as you can in terms of your compositions; you need to be more versatile.”

“When I reach my 70s, I want to, of course, have had a successful musical career, but also I want to have this opportunity to start something, to begin something like this,” says the musical multi-tasker. “The idea has been born, so it would be amazing to see it happen.”


Simone Veil’s Jewish Music farewell

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Los judíos de Francia, parte intrínseca de la nación y centro vital de sus fibras más liberales y su resistencia al fascismo acudieron en masa, junto con las autoridades y el pueblo de Francia en general al homenaje, y traslado de sus restos mortales, de Simone y Antoine Veil al panteón de Los Héroes de Francia donde, como judía, como mujer, como sobreviviente de Auschwitz y Bergen-Belsen, como Jurista y Primera Presidenta de la Comunidad Europea, descansará como símbolo a las futuras generaciones de lo mejor que Francia y que el judaísmo han producido.

En contra del fascismo, del populismo, del imperialismo, del sectarismo y el extremismo, la fortaleza de Simone Veil se levanta para defender el humanismo, el Tikun Olam entre todos los pueblos, las lenguas, las culturas en un abrazo de hermandad que demuestra que, en la unión está la fuerza de lo más positivo de la humanidad.

Hoy, cuando las fuerzas del populismo amenazan la resurrección de un fascismo activo, donde la confrontación entre grupos es usada para promover puestos políticos, las ideas, la dedicación, la fortaleza y el ejemplo de Simone brillan más que nunca.

A 75 años de las primeras deportaciones, cuando los gritos del salvajismo regresan a las calles y recrean las mismas condiciones para nuevos deportados; a 75 años del pacto de los fascismos y el cierre de fronteras que ‘garantizaron’ el asesinato de seis millones de judíos -si vemos los logros de los sobrevivientes habría que pensar cuanto perdimos todos con los que murieron- a 75 años de la creación de las brigadas internacionales todo parece repetirse casi al día.

Ojalá este reconocimiento de su vida en el aniversario de su cumpleaños sirva para recordarnos a todos que la lucha de hace 8 décadas no solo continua sino necesita ser reafirmada para evitar su repetición.

VEA LA CEREMONIA DE DEDICACIÓN de sus restos en el Panteón de los Héroes Franceses

Y escuche gracias a la música, y los silencios que la acompañaron en el traslado a su morada final, música de la resistencia, de la sobrevivencia, música en francés, en yiddish, música para siempre judeo-francesa.

La marcha de los deportados (en francés Chant des Marais)

La marcha de los deportados fue escrita en 1933 por los primeros prisioneros de los campos de concentración nazis entre los que predominaban los socialistas judíos y no judíos, música judía de la resistencia.
Esta es la versión original de 1933 traída a Usted cortesía de

Esta es una versión en inglés:

Bilingüe en la voz de Theodore Bikel

En alemán

Interpretada en Mauthausen por el Coro Internazionale el 10 de Mayo de 2015 en alemán, español, italiano, inglés, francés, Yiddish.

Eli, Eli – versión instrumental de canto religioso 

Kol-Nidrei – versión instrumental (a nuestros muertos)

Escuche nuestra colección de Kol Nidrei en

Pavane op. 50 de Gabriel Fauré 

L’Ode de la Joie de Beethoven (se convirtió en el himno de la Unión Europea)

Nuit et Brouillard (Noche y Niebla) de Jean Ferrat (compositor y cantante – Judío de Francia) 

Vocalise de Rachminoff 

Comme toi (elle s’appelait Sarah) de Jean-Jacques Goldman (compositor y cantante – Judío de Francia en memoria de su hermana asesinada por los nazis por ser lo que era : Judía