Elegy to Remo Belli

Visionary innovator leaves legacy of drumming for healing the human condition.

by Ping Ho, Founder and Director of UCLArts and Healing

Dear Remo,

I will miss our telephone calls that began with ni hao in Chinese and ended with either zai jian or “OOO-K young lady.”

I will miss your strength of conviction, when sharing the harmony you witnessed – in every sense of the word – among diverse participants in drum circles.

I will miss your random exciting news of a connection made around the globe.   Or experiences that validated your observation of the same social conditions everywhere.  Or possibilities for healing individuals and communities, through drumming.

I will miss the twinkle in your eye when revealing the latest invention from your workshop, intended to empower the community with accessible self-expression.

I will miss the Proud Papa tours of your pristine manufacturing plant with happy employees that could easily have replaced the set for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

I will miss the radiance of your inner artist with a pair of mallets in hand.  And the passion for rhythm that you instilled in me.

I will miss your willingness to walk the talk when investing in innovative projects that no agency would have the courage to support.

I will miss the myriad ways that you found to “do well by doing good”.

I will miss your howling laughter whenever I would share an inadvertent business lesson, which you had already known for years.

I will miss the privilege of your mentorship and your faith in our work – and in me.

I pledge to carry on your vision and legacy.

With gratitude beyond words,


– – – – – – – –

For those wishing to learn more about Remo Belli, please see his New York Times obituary.



Do-It-Yourself Music Therapy

Barbara Reuer

by Barbara Reuer, PhD, MT-BC
reprinted from the MusicWorx, Inc. website

When you hear a song you like on the radio, your entire mood lightens. You sing along, hum the chorus, or snap your fingers. Listening to a tape or CD of your favorite artist help you relax or feel more energized. You may even use music to practice yoga or meditate.

When a favorite song comes on the radio, we all turn up the volume and listen more closely or sing along—and instantly feel better than we did moments before. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind this phenomenon.

New research in the field of music therapy continues to expand experts’ understanding of how music contributes to good health. Whether your taste runs to Bach, the Beatles or Beyoncé, you can use music therapy techniques at home to boost immunity, reduce stress, ease certain symptoms, or just feel and function better overall.

“You don’t need to read music, play an instrument or even sing on key to benefit from music therapy. The ability to respond to music is natural within every person,” said Barbara Reuer, PhD, director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and training program in San Diego.

Music’s profound effects on health have been demonstrated in many studies. Examples:

1  When volunteers listened to joyful music, their blood vessels dilated by 26% on average, improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

2  Increased levels of germ-fighting immunoglobulins were found in the saliva of study participants after they sang and played instruments.

3  Patients listened to music of their choice before, during and after eye surgery… a control group did not listen to music. In both groups, blood pressure rose just before the operation. But in the music group, blood pressure quickly came back down, whereas in the control group, it remained elevated during the procedure.

4  Stroke patients with impaired vision on one side could perceive objects more accurately while listening to music they enjoyed than while in silence or listening to music they did not like.

In a nutshell: Music has been shown to . . .

  • boost the immune system
    • lower blood pressure
    • ease chronic and acute pain
    • relieve nausea
    • improve muscle control (for instance, in Parkinson’s patients)
    • promote visual and auditory abilities
    • improve brain function, focus and memory (including in Alzheimer’s patients)
    • reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension
    • combat insomnia
    • lift mood

While almost anyone can benefit from music, for a person with a significant health problem, it is most effective to work with a board-certified music therapist, Dr. Reuer suggested. Treatment might include listening to specific types of music, singing, songwriting, playing simple instruments, moving to music and/or doing tactile exercises involving vibration. Some insurance policies cover the cost.

Referrals: American Music Therapy Association phone (301) 589–3300

Try This at Home

For an emotional and physical boost, you can tap into the power of music therapy on your own every day. Dr. Reuer explained, “You’re not just putting on a CD as background music. Instead, you are engaged in the music—for instance, by singing or playing an instrument or by listening to music in a focused, intentional way.” What to do . . .

  • Pick appropriate music. No single style of music is more therapeutic than all the rest. What matters most is the effect that you are trying to achieve and your personal reaction to the music, Dr. Reuer said. For instance, to promote relaxation, listen to music that you find soothing while you practice deep breathing. For pain management, look for music that focuses your mind on things other than your discomfort. To stimulate memory, experiment with music you enjoyed as a teen. To lower blood pressure, use a home blood pressure monitor before and after each music session to identify music that has the desired effect for you.
  • Sing or hum (remembering to breathe deeply) in the car or around the house. If you used to play an instrument, take it up again. Dr. Reuer urged, “Try not to pass judgment on your singing abilities or get frustrated if you make mistakes as you play your instrument. The idea is to be in the moment and just let go.”

Source: Barbara Reuer, PhD, NMT (neurologic music therapist), MT-BC (music therapist-board certified), is founder and director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and clinical training program in San Diego, and author of Group Rhythm and Drumming with Older Adults (American Music Therapy).

Poetry Shares Rewarding Brain Effects with Music

A new study by Adam Zeman and colleagues from the University of Exeter used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques to find that poetry, compared to prose, uniquely activates brain areas associated with introspection, such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.

The research team also found that emotionally charged words activated the same (predominantly right side) areas of the brain that register emotional responses to music, associated with shivers down the spine.

UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman has reported that putting words to feelings may help with emotion regulation.  His laboratory conducted brain scans of 30 individuals, as they described distressing pictures, and discovered that putting words to feelings reduces activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain associated with emotion and fear) and increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for self-regulation).  They also found that the effects were greater for long-hand writing than typing.

Click here to purchase the study.
Zeman A, Milton F, Smith A, Rylance R.  By Heart An fMRI Study of Brain Activation by Poetry and Prose. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2013; 20 (9-10): 132-158(27).

Click here to view the article.
Lieberman, M. D., Eisengerger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421-428.

Dance and Aging: A Critical Review of Findings in Neuroscience

old couple dancing.jpg

This article reviews research that measures the benefits of a variety of dance forms with older adults, for cognitive and sensorimotor performance (such as balance and gait), social and emotional wellbeing, and underlying neurobiological factors.

 Besides reporting the measurement methods for each study, this article draws three important conclusions from the studies as a whole:

1.  Sensorimotor performance (such as balance, gait, speed, and functional exercise-based capacity) seems to improve with long-term and not short-term (e.g., 3–5 days per week for 2 weeks) participation.

2. All forms of dance (cultural, social, modern, jazz, mixed, ballroom, dance/movement therapy) led to significant improvements in static, dynamic or functional balance.

3.  Many positive benefits were found in cognitive and sensorimotor performance.

Click here to read the article.
Kshtriya S, Barstaple R, Rabinovich DB, and DeSouza JFX.  Dance and Aging: A Critical Review of Findings in Neuroscience.  American Journal of Dance Therapy. (2015) 37:81–112 DOI 10.1007/s10465-015-9196-7.

New Online Creative Caregiving Guide

NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide

Imagine a world where every caregiving act for adults with alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders contributes to quality days for both the caregiver and their care partner.

The public is invited to utilize FREE video clips and curriculum materials developed by the National Center for Creative Aging to facilitate cognition, self-expression, movement and social connection in adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders.*

The guide is constantly expanding with lessons for additional languages and cultures.


* Note from Ping Ho, MA, MPH – Founding Director of UCLArts and Healing:

The lessons are applicable to other populations such as special needs and young children.

Social Competence Predicts Life Outcomes

Social competence
The prestigious American Journal of Public Health published a study in July 2015 that supports the development of social-emotional learning as a public health mandate.

753 kindergarteners from low socioeconomic neighborhoods were rated by their teachers on social competence and followed by Jones et al for 19 years (to approximately age 25) to determine outcomes in education, employment, public assistance, crime, mental health and substance use.

Social competence was measured by such characteristics as “cooperates with peers without prompting,” “is helpful to others,” “very good at understanding feelings,” and “resolves problems on own.”

Even after taking into consideration gender, race, number of parents in the home, socioeconomic status, early childhood aggression, early academic ability and other factors, social competence in kindergarten predicted:

  • graduation from high school on time
  • completion of a college degree
  • stable or full-time employment in young adulthood
  • less use of special education services
  • fewer repeated grades in high school
  • less use of or requests for public housing or public assistance
  • less involvement with police or detainment before adulthood
  • less likelihood of arrest or appearing in court, and fewer arrests for a severe offense in young adulthood
  • fewer days of binge drinking or marijuana use
  • fewer years on medication for emotional or behavioral issues through high school

Social-emotional learning can be effectively facilitated through supportive arts experiences informed by mental health practices because they are experiential, engaging, embodied and, thus, enduring (Petty and Caccioppo).

The arts are also uniquely able to enhance positive emotions, which builds social connection, despite racial and cultural differences (Frederickson).

Shared creative experiences can deepen possibilities for reflection and meaningful dialogue, in an organic process that develops empathy and empowerment (Freire).

The synchrony that occurs in arts experiences (whether singing the same note, doing the same movement, accepting an idea and running with it as in improvisational theater, or simple eye contact) is a form of empathic communication that develops social competence (Kokal).


Frederickson BL.  Are you getting enough positivity in your diet?

Frederickson BL.  How Positive Emotions Heal.  Presentation delivered at the International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health 2012 on16 May 2012, 8:15 AM-9:00 AM. http://webcast.ircimh.org/portal.

Freire P.  Education for Critical Consciousness.  London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1974

Jones DE, Greenberg M, and Crowley M.  Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness.  American Journal of Public Health.  Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e8.  doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630, http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

Kokal I, Engel A, Kirschner S, and Keysers C.  Synchronized Drumming Enhances Activity in the Caudate and Facilitates Prosocial Commitment – If the Rhythm Comes Easily. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27272, 2011.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027272, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0027272

Petty RE and Caccioppo JT. Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change. New York: Springer-Verlag,1986.

Music can control pain


Studies show that listening to preferred music can significantly reduce pain.

A newly published study of music and postoperative pain in children by Sunitha Suresh et al randomly assigned them to music of choice (from a provided list), audiobook of choice (from a provided list) or silence control.[1]

The researchers found that 30” of music or audiobooks reduced pain to the same degree as administration of Advil or Tylenol, without the risk of side effects.

Self-selection of music or audiobook is an important element in pain management. Mitchell and MacDonald showed that patient-preferred music led to greater tolerance for laboratory-induced pain, reported pain intensity and perceived control over pain than relaxing music selected by the researchers. [2]

According to Judith Pinkerton, music therapist and past president of the Western Region American Music Therapy Association, for self-management of physical pain, listening to familiar soothing music to which you already have a strong conditioned relaxation response is the most effective method.[3]

A recent randomized, controlled trial by Hsieh et al found that the strength of preferred music in reducing pain can even override experimenter suggestions to the contrary.[4]  Perhaps it is because listening to music that you like stimulates the same reward center of the brain that is activated by euphoria-inducing stimuli, like sex, drugs and chocolate.[5]

A systematic review by Nilsson of 42 randomized controlled trials involving the use of music to reduce pain associated with elective surgery, totaling 3,936 patients, concluded that music interventions in clinical practice should include the following components:[6]

  • Slow and flowing music, approximately 60 to 80 beats per minute
  • Nonlyrical
  • Maximum volume level at 60 dB
  • Patient’s own choice, with guidance
  • Suitable equipment chosen for the specific situation
  • A minimum duration of 30 minutes in length
  • Measurement, follow up, and documentation of the effects

[1] Sunitha Suresh BS, De Oliveira GS, and Suresh S.  The effect of audio therapy to treat postoperative pain in children undergoing major surgery: a randomized controlled trial.  Pediatric Surgery International, 2015 31:197-201.

[2] Mitchell LA and MacDonald RA. An experimental investigation of the effects of preferred and relaxing music listening on pain perception. Journal of Music Therapy, 2006; 43(4):295-316.

[3] Pinkerton J.  The Sound of Healing.  Las Vegas: SeminarConcerts International, Inc., 1996.

[4] Hsieh C, Kong J, Kirsch I, Edwards RR, Jensen KB, et al.  Well-loved music robustly relieves pain: a randomized, controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9(9): e107390. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107390.

[5] Blood A and Zatorre RJ. Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2001; 98(20):11818-23.

[6] Nilsson U.  The anxiety- and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review. AORN Journal, 2008; 87(4):780-807.

A moment of creativity and meaning

This delightful message by Arthur Hull, father of the modern day drum circle, shows how we can bring creativity and meaning to even the most mundane of moments – as he transforms a family’s experience in an airport line and helps those around him to rediscover the rhythmical spirit that naturally flows through us as children.

Hello my friends,

…So many of my spontaneous rhythm experiences have been with bored kids doing what they naturally do to pass the time while their patients are getting them from one place to the next…

…I am waiting in the usual airport rope line to go through security to get to the flight gates. It is the kind of airport rope line line that weaves back and forth in order to put the most people in the smallest amount of space. Your always facing two lines of people until you get to the front of the line. One line of people facing are in line behind you, and other line is facing you in the line that is in front of you. A lot of people queued up in a small space.

There is a family of four in line in front of me.

Each of the two boys in this family are seated next to each other in upscale 3 wheeled baby buggies. The father in front dragging the hand held luggage and the mother is behind the boys pushing both baby buggies. I’m behind the Mother.

The oldest boy, 3 or 4 years old, has a plastic fork in one hand and a plastic spoon in the other.  He is beating the butt of their plastic handles down on the buggy tray in front of him, making nice rhythmical sound. (It is a nice sound to me anyway.)

It went like this:

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •  ……

His little brother is sitting next to him, with one hand formed into a finger gun pointed at his brother, while making rhythmical gun sounds as he shot his brother.

“Bam” goes the imaginary gun.

What is amazing to me, ( and probably not conscious to the brothers), is they are in perfect sound/rhythm entrainment;

It sounds like this;

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •  ……
Bam                      Bam                        Bam                      Bam                       ……

It seemed that no one else but the mother is being irritated by their rhythmical interaction. So before she could stop them, I vocally joined in with a rhythmical syncopated “Peek”.  I did to softly at first, so as to not surprise the boys or disturb their rhythm.

I am closer to the mom than the boys so she picked up that I had joined the boys rhythm ensemble.

I believe that her mothering radar was on, and I am sure that she only hears that her boys might be disturbing the other people in the lines around them. She does not hear the “Sound entrainment” that they are creating, until, that is, I Join in.

Now our rhythm ensemble sounds like this:

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum   •  …… Older Boy
Bam                      Bam                        Bam                      Bam                    •  …… Younger Brother
Peek                       Peek                      Peek                       Peek         •  …… Arthur Elf

Hearing my contribution to the boys rhythm I see that she understands what is happening and literally steps back to make room to let it happen.

I am not sure if the boys ever really heard my sound contribution, but it was a lot of fun. Our interned rhythm lasted over one and a half minutes before the younger brother got tired of shooting his older brother. But until he stopped, he never got out of sync with his brother, even on his last “Bam”.

After the younger stopped Bamming, I stopped Peeking.  At the end of the next rhythm cycle, the mother stopped the older brother’s DaDumming by taking away his plastic cutlery.

A small group of people in the lines surrounding us, gives us a quiet round of applause.

And then we all go back to being travelers in an airport security line.

Life is a dance….

Movement Facilitates Creative Thinking

Sample drawings from Saggar et al study on creative thinking and cerebellum activity

A new Pictionary-based Stanford study by Saggar et al has shown that creative thinking is facilitated by activity in the cerebellum (the movement coordination part of the brain) and hampered by activity in the prefrontal cortex (the executive function part of the brain associated with planning, organization and management).

Subjects were given 30 seconds to depict each of several action words by drawing pictures of them while inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine to monitor brain activity.  They were also asked to draw zigzag lines to observe differences in fine motor activity without a creative component.

When words were difficult to draw, there was more activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with attention and evaluation.  Independently-rated creativity scores were higher with low activity in the prefrontal cortex and high activity in the cerebellum.

Saggar stated, “The more you think about it, the more you mess it up.”

Stanford professor Michel Serres hikes the Dish on a regular basis.

Stanford professor Michel Serres hikes the Dish on a regular basis.

This study may shed neurobiological light on an interesting finding from another Stanford study by Oppezzo and Schwartz published in April 2014 that walking compared to sitting more than doubles creative inspiration, whether out in nature or indoors facing a wall on a treadmill.  They compared the walking conditions to sitting indoors facing a wall or sitting outdoors while being pushed in a wheelchair.  They also compared various combinations and sequences of walking and sitting.

While walking or sitting, 176 subjects were given four minutes to solve “divergent thinking” problems—taking an object and coming up with innovative yet appropriate alternative uses for it.  Creative brainstorming was 60% greater when walking.

In another test, they were asked to come up with meaningful analogies to phrases such as “a robbed safe”.  100% of subjects in the walking condition were able to come up with appropriate analogies, whereas only 50% of the subjects in the sitting condition were able to do so.

The researchers wonder whether other forms of mild physical activity that does not necessitate focused concentration for execution (such as loosely-structured creative movement), would lead to the same benefits.  They also suggested that movement may facilitate creative thought processes through improved mood states and that movement breaks throughout the day may be a good idea.


Stanford news media summaries of the two studies for the lay public can be found through the links below:
Saggar et al study on creative thinking and cerebellum activity.
Oppezzo and Schwatrz study on creative thinking and walking.

Re-Write Your Life

Mindset Book 3

A New York Times blog by Tara Parker-Pope offers examples of studies that show how changing your narrative can change the trajectory of your life.   Scroll down to see the blog.

The examples that she cites suggest that changing one’s story contributes to a growth mindset that is associated with learning and achievement.

According to Carol Dweck, of the Stanford University Department of Psychology, those with growth mindsets seek challenges for an opportunity to learn and those with fixed mindsets of intelligence avoid challenges that lead to self-judgment.

Research from Dweck’s lab has shown that exposure to even simple messages (e.g., “You must have tried really hard”) can have a profound effect on academic performance, and that parental messages heard by children from ages 1-3 determine their mindsets by ages 7-8.

When we re-write our stories, not only do we change our mindsets, but also we visualize new outcomes, which register in the brain as if real, hardwire us for new behavior, and can even change our memory of past events.

Click here to view a TED Talk by Carol Dweck.

Click here if you are interested in a teleseminar on re-writing your life, which will enable participation from far and near from the comfort of home.

Blog post by Tara Parker-Pope

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.  Read More… Continue reading ‘Re-Write Your Life’