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New Research Shows That Learning Music Improves Cognition

Educators have known for many years that music students do well in school, but it has been difficult to discover whether good students happen to take music courses or that studying music makes them smarter. New German research shows that improved academic performance is a result of musical training, according to Pacific Standard Magazine. It may not be all the evidence that is needed for proof, but it is a good start in the right direction.

Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp of the German Institute for Economic Research report that after allowing for numerous parental background differences, learning a musical instrument was definitely associated with better cognitive skills and school grades. They found musically active students scored significantly higher on a standard cognitive skills test. They were also about 15 percent more likely than nonmusicians to be planning to attend a university.


Debt-Ridden Italian Opera Houses Face Bankruptcy 

Major Italian musical organizations such as the Rome Opera and the Arena di Verona face huge deficits that have been allowed to accumulate over a number of years. Rome’s Ministry of Culture is appointing an administrator to see what is to be done about some $39 million that the opera owes. Its staff and musicians expect job losses as high as 50 percent. On top of that, Rome’s City Council announced a cut in its subsidy of over $3 million.

Ticket sales in Rome have been covering only one-eighth of the cost of productions. Unlike La Scala in Milan, Rome’s opera company does not attract much private sponsorship and is largely dependent on the government. Also in trouble is the renowned Arena di Verona. Like the opera in Rome, this summer company has suffered from poor management, vicious infighting, political interference, lack of private sponsorship, and cuts in government funding.

Opera San José Announces Retirement of Music Director

General Manager Larry Hancock, who took over from founder Irene Dalis last July, has announced that Music Director David Rohrbaugh will retire at the end of the 2013-2014 season. The conductor, who has been at Opera San José for the past 30 years, led more than 600 performances of 70 productions. “My 30 years with Opera San José have presented both a challenge and a great sense of satisfaction,” he said. “It’s been a long ride, and we’ve accomplished so much. With Irene’s retirement, it seems that now is the right time to step down.”

Rohrbaugh taught voice and co-directed the opera workshop at San José State University for more than 20 years. He teaches privately at his voice studio in Palo Alto in addition to presiding over masterclasses and adjudicating competitions.

Wayne S. Brown Named President of Michigan Opera Theatre

Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) of Detroit has appointed a native of that city, Wayne S. Brown, to be its president and chief operating officer beginning on January 1, 2014, according to PR Newswire. Brown was the director of music and opera for the National Endowment for the Arts from 1997 to 2013. He will succeed the company’s founder, David DiChiera, who will remain as artistic director.

Last February DiChiera announced his intention to step down as general director and focus on the artistic and production side of the company. “We are thrilled to have a man of Wayne Brown’s experience and vision take over the role that David has so capably carried out for so many years,” said MOT chairman Rick Williams.

Do Some Operas Bore You?

Being bored by opera is quite normal, even if you are a musician, according to conductor John Eliot Gardiner. Friends have told him that Parsifal is one of the greatest operas, but every time he has tried to listen to it, he has fallen asleep. This doesn’t mean that the music shouldn’t make demands on you, he adds. It’s just that every bar should count. “The greatest musical dramatists—Monteverdi, Purcell, Rameau, Mozart (after Idomeneo), Berlioz, Verdi (after Don Carlo), and Janáček—are the ones whose compositions sag least.”

Novelist Julian Barnes says that what bores us changes with age. “When I started listening to classical music, I found slow movements boring,” he says. “Now they’re the movements I most look forward to, while I can doze off during a jaunty presto.”


Milwaukee Orchestra Faces Up to the Future

Mark Niehaus, who was once the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s principal trumpeter, is now its president and executive director. The transition from player to boss has not been easy. This past year the orchestra posted a $1.8 million deficit, and that was the third deficit in four years. In the past, large donors came to the rescue, but this time some donors declined to help. The biggest foundation in the city did not make any contribution this past year, suggesting the orchestra take a close look at its business model.

Since then, the union contract with the players has been reopened, putting Niehaus, who once led the musicians in bargaining, on the other side of the table. “I don’t have the magic wand and I don’t have the bully pulpit and I don’t have the hammer,” he said. “I’m not Thor. But what I can do is get the right people in the right place to hopefully make decisions that will help the organization survive and thrive.”


Maria Nockin

Born in New York City to a British mother and a German father, Maria Nockin studied piano, violin, and voice. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera Guild while studying for her BM and MM degrees at Fordham University. She now lives in southern Arizona where she paints desert landscapes, translates from German for musical groups, and writes on classical singing for various publications.