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The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach

Clifford Saron
Barbara Bogatin

The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach

This workshop will explore links between the craft, commitments, and practice of meditation, science, and music. The wisdom gained from contemplative time, scientific understanding and artistic expression provides insight into who we are as human beings, how we connect with others, and find meaning in our lives. In our increasingly technological world, it is especially important to examine the qualities we cultivate during meditation of compassion, lovingkindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity. Through listening to and understanding the music of great masters, we find the emotional connections that speak to our shared humanity.

Neuroscientist Clifford Saron will explain aspects of brain function that enable our capacity for resonance with each other and our environment. Through current research on neuroplasticity he will show how musicians’ brains are altered to incorporate their instruments into their embodiment. Drawing on his research on intensive meditation, he will describe varied attentional, emotional, and physiological consequences of long-term practice. He will emphasize the role of context and the “social imaginary” of practitioners in interpreting research findings, and will bring a transdisciplinary and critical perspective regarding the bourgeoning body of research on meditation and mindfulness.

San Francisco Symphony cellist Barbara Bogatin will play musical offerings and give behind-the-scenes commentary illustrating how musicians turn their daily instrument practice into contemplative practice. She will provide a rare glimpse from within the discipline of maintaining a high level of craft, performing music by Bach and exploring the composer’s creative process. Can this be duplicated by artificial intelligence, or is there something unique in the depths of Bach’s human expression?

Each workshop will begin with a movement from a Bach Suite for solo cello, followed by discussion about the underlying structural, emotional, and spiritual components that draw us into the composer’s inner sound world. Periods of meditation will prepare us for guided listening and help us understand the musician’s work finding the musical flow, staying present in each musical moment, and overcoming obstacles to optimal performance. Each day will explore a different topic, such as how music practice and meditation practice complement and enhance each other, how musicians discover the art of interpretation through recognizing the clues Bach provides, and the ways in which live music interacts with technology in today’s world.

The workshop will include meditation, informal talks and discussion, interwoven with deep listening and exulting in the joy of music. No experience in meditation, music or brain research necessary!