About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

July 22, 2016

Gretna Music 森林公園-yoku

The distinctive location of our concert hall deep in the forest has helped attract audience to our concerts. The same music in a high-school auditorium or a community center probably would not have lasted for 40 years. And the Mount Gretna Playhouse, rebuilt in 1995 to replicate an 1892 structure, is well-sized for our music (like the Schumann Piano Quintet on July 31) and has pretty good acoustics for an outdoor (and even indoor) venue. Of course the surrounding Gretna community is quaint and distinctive. And there is the Jigger Shop. . . .
A neighbor, Fred Opalinski, just called my attention to another reason for the attraction. Twenty five years ago Japanese scientists reported on a small study that suggested walking in a forest could provide a lift in mood and relieve stress. They wondered whether doing most anything -- just being -- in a forest might be more beneficial to health than in an urban setting. Apart from the calming visual images and forest sounds, they wondered whether "phytoncides," natural substances released by plants into the environment, might cause salutary effects. 

They introduced the term, shinrin-yoku, "forest bathing," to emphasize that we might actually breathe in "components emitted from the forest," not simply escape the toxicity of urban air. Forests, they theorized, may provide an opportunity to visualize, touch, listen to, and inhale nature. More broadly shinrin-yoko means bathing in biodiversity in an environment more like the one in which humans for millennia have evolved. We haven't had the additional hundreds of centuries necessary to evolve into a species well-adapted to urban life (and air). 

Research since then, reported in TIME (July 26) and also reviewed (for scientists) in The Journal of Physiological Anthropology (2015;35:1), begins to try to answer why and how spending time in forests may relieve various symptoms and possibly improve your health. 

As I pointed out in previous posts, humans have always made music, even when we were hunter-gatherers. No further evolution is required for that. I just returned from a magical week of music at Interlochen (see Jul 12). Talk about trees!

For our part we say that for the modest price of a concert ticket you can engage in healthy 'forest bathing,' shinrin-yoku, while you listen to good music. Better than pumping iron or jogging!

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