Music as Exercise
Along with his passion for physics, Albert Einstein, an accomplished violinist, developed a love for music. His second wife, Elsa, once said that she fell in love with him “because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin.” Einstein himself mused, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
If the study of mathematical theory and classical music do not seem interrelated, think again. According to neuroscientist Oliver Sacks, playing music is much like cross-circuit training for the brain. Such brain calisthenics can build stronger and denser neural networks that can then be activated in tasks related to language, sequencing, and mathematical operations. Einstein himself confessed to thinking about science in terms of images and intuitions, often drawn directly from his experience as a musician. Only later did he convert these ideas into logic, words, and mathematics. Einstein is not alone in realizing that the study of music can be a powerful tool in helping prepare the brain for other pursuits.
Plant the Seeds and Watch Them Grow
Geoff Johson, violinist, music teacher, and Kenmore resident is no stranger to the power of music education on brain development. Since moving here in 1997, Johnson has been helping youth succeed both on stage and off. A champion of music studies, he also knows the importance of performance in building confidence. As former students return from college and jobs, they have been quick to admit the positive influence of music studies in their current successes. With nearly 25 years of service in this area, Johnson has seen many of his students go on to have music careers of their own.
A Good Beginning
Johnson grew up in Boulder, Colorado, a good place for nurturing a love of music. He remembers starting violin lessons in elementary school and attending concerts with his mother at the university and community park. After high school he attended San Francisco State University for a time, but returned to graduate from University of Colorado Boulder in musical performance. After teaching and performing for a while in Boulder, Johnson enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he earned a master’s degree in music pedagogy.
Time for a Move
In the last few weeks of the program, Johnson learned about the Alexander Technique, a discipline that studies the vital connection between thinking and moving. Offering personalized attention to each student, this technique teaches how to use the physical body to better achieve music-related and other goals. In order to learn more, Johnson moved to Seattle to attend a special performance school which featured the technique. In 1997 he finally settled in Kenmore.
Though busy with orchestras and many different performances at the time, Johnson was eager to begin teaching. He looked to Mills Music for leads and soon had his own students. In 1998, Lake Washington school district also asked him for help. They had been without a music program for many years due to budget cuts. Starting from scratch at the elementary level, Johnson moved through junior high school, and finally created a strings program at Lake Washington High School.
A Life of Service
In 2010, after leaving Lake Washington School District, Johnson began receiving requests from the Northshore School District. Jim Rice, retired orchestra director for Inglemoor High School, asked him to help with orchestra every morning, then Karen Cramer, retired music teacher from Kenmore Middle School. Johnson answered the call. For many years, along with his own students, Johnson has nurtured the success of the thriving music program in the Northshore School District, only to retire himself from district teaching last year, though he still coaches a morning class at Lockwood Elementary as part of the PTA clubs program.
Johnson remains a dedicated strings teacher in his own home studio; however, he does not expect his students to spend all their time refining skills there. Knowing the importance of performance and sharing music with the community, he schedules multiple performances throughout the year. The winter holiday recital at Kenmore Senior Living and other senior care centers in the area is a hit. After each performance the students are encouraged to show their thanks by greeting the residents in person and sharing the treats they have brought. A performer must reciprocate, Johnson says. This experience teaches the kids the real why of performance. They get the opportunity to perform in front of others, hone their skills, and improve their confidence. On the other hand, the performance would not happen without the audience members, who should also be thanked.
Catching the Next Flash Mob
You can catch a performance featuring Johnson’s students at the Hangar building at Kenmore’s Town Square. The next performance will be held there on May fourth and will have a Star Wars theme. The time of the performance is TBA. Though this is a scheduled event, Johnson wants visitors of the hangar to think of it more as a flash mob. In other words, stay and listen, even if you don’t have a family member or friend among the performers! With pandemic restrictions now lifted, Johnson hopes in the future to gather other teachers in the area for monthly performances at the Hangar. So, stay tuned.
And the next time you are looking to exercise your cerebral muscles, you might want to try some musical calisthenics by dusting off a forgotten instrument or cuing up your favorite musician.