KEEPING THE BEAT--Healthy Aging Through Amateur Chamber Music Playing - by Ada P Kahn, PhD, Wordscope Associates, Inc, Evanston, Illinois 60201-4975, 1999, xix & 259 pp, HB $27.95, ISBN 0-930121-02-3; PB $21.95, ISBN: 0- 930121-01-5, www.keepingthebeat.com

Review by Del Meyer, MD

The classical music festivals of the past are giving way to excellent music everywhere, in every tempo, for every taste. A Seniors’ magazine lists festivals from all over America - from chamber music in Sitka, Alaska, to blues in the Poconos.

Andrew Weil, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona, states that music therapy, involving listening to and making music, is the most well-researched creative arts therapy that can produce powerful results. Music can affect cardiac rate and rhythm and depth of respiration, help manage chronic pain, reduce pain of childbirth, help patients with Parkinson’s disease walk better and faster, and even enhance memory in Alzheimer’s patients.

Dr Ada Kahn, a health educator and author of the award-winning STRESS A-Z - A Sourcebook for Facing Everyday Challenges (reviewed in Sacramento Medicine, June 1999) and The Encyclopedia of Mental Health, (Sacramento Medicine, June 1994), suggests that we celebrate aging by participating in musical activities.

Kahn feels that chamber music is particularly suited for healthy aging. This form of music was first mention in 1676 by Thomas Mace in Musick’s Monument. Chamber music includes compositions of any combination of two or more instruments where one instrument plays each part. The forms may be duets, trios, quartets, and larger combinations for strings (violins, violas, cellos, and double basses) and wind instruments (chiefly woodwind and horns), with and without piano for up to ten instruments. Vocalists, madrigal singing and jazz combos are excluded. She defines "amateur" as anyone who plays for the love of chamber music rather than for financial remuneration. Amateur chamber music participation brings people together to enjoy an activity in which there is intense involvement, satisfaction, and challenge. No audience is required or desired, as you are the audience.

Kahn profiles 24 men and women between the ages of 67 and 94 who share their musical and health experiences. There is the retired professor of social science who played the piano since age four, including duets with her mother. At age 50 she learned to play the cello that a friend gave her. She began playing in a variety of duets including pianos, flutes, and violins several times a month with friends at their homes. She feels it is common for people to learn to do new things after age 50. She recounts the benefits of psychologic involvement to reduce stress and increase stamina, and feels that making music is a spiritual and emotionally rewarding experience.

A retired school teacher who played in the Monterey Symphony Orchestra for 15 years considers herself an amateur with a flute. At age 70 she says that "many of us older players can’t play our eight bar phrases without breathing. When the pollen is too bad, we just pull out our inhalers, laugh, and go on."

To read more of the interesting profiles and the healthy aspects of involvement in chamber music playing please go to www.healthcarecom.net.

The forward of Keeping the Beat is written by Don Campbell, researcher, musician and author of The Mozart Effect® who is considered the world’s foremost educator on the connection between music and healing. This book, by a fellow member of the American Medical Writers Association, was a delight to read and brought back fond memories of some of my university friends who received degrees in music therapy. Ada has another winner from which our patients can benefit.