BR logo web withtag

Bread & Roses Blog

News and information from Bread & Roses, a non-profit organization that presents live music to bring hope, healing and joy to the community.

Performers Create Community for Bread & Roses Isolated Audiences


Mickey Hart, best known as the drummer for the Grateful Dead and a member of our Circle of Advisors, talks about the rhythm of music that connects us all in a common heartbeat. At Bread & Roses Presents, we are fortunate to witness on a daily basis the transformative power of music and the performing arts to bring diverse audiences together in a communal experience. Wiley and Debbie Rankin of Jump for Joy Music, Ross Commons and Gail Muldrow are among the many performers who create community for Bread & Roses isolated audiences in a variety of ways.

Continue reading
Rate this blog entry:
2001 Hits

'Rock The Ages' at Whistlestop: Health Benefits For Seniors Through Choral Singing

There's been a lot in the media recently about the health benefits of choral singing for those who are older.   The "Rock the Ages" chorus at The Redwoods in Mill Valley performed an inspiring and poignant concert for Bread & Roses at Whistlestop's regular lunch program for seniorsin San Rafael recently. Many benefits were received not only by the audience, but especially by those who were singing.

Chorus member Dave, who kicked off the concert with a solo on Coldplay's "Yellow," said "I like singing in the chorus as it gives everyone a feeling of happiness."

Just last week, KQED's Forum posted a blog "In San Francisco, Seniors Are Singing for Science" about their recent initiative to organize community choirs for seniors in order to study the health benefits of singing.

On June 20, 2013, The New York Times published an article called "A Search for Harmony" in The New Old Age: Caring and Coping. Featuring the new film "Unfinished Song" it discusses how singing in a chorus helps people who are older maintain their health and social connections.

The phenomenon started with "Young at Heart," a 2007  documentary film that was produced about the Young at Heart Chorus based in Northhampton, MA.   The New York Times piece mentions the "Rock the Ages" chorus being inspired by Young at Heart's template.

Three years ago, a group at The Redwoods started "Rock the Ages" a truly collaborative and community-based chorus. Cassandra Flipper, executive director at Bread & Roses, was on the original planning committee that helped launch the chorus.  Music Director Barry Blum has made great strides working with the group to be performance ready. Section leader Amy Turner helps with choreography and lyrics. Ann Ure tirelessly recruits volunteers as well as sponsors.

But as in any Bread & Roses volunteer group,  the majority of credit goes to the performers themselves. At the Whistlestop concert,  Centenarian Al rocked the house singing The Who's "My Generation." Cynthia sang a stirring rendition of Bonnie Raitt's hit song "Have A Heart" penned by local singer-songwriter Bonnie Hayes.  A larger ensemble surprised and delighted with an upbeat version of "Don't Cha" by The Pussycat Dolls.

Bread & Roses Volunteer Host Pat Wall reported that group members shared their thoughts upon their departure:  “I love performing with my friends.I am not the best singer but we have the best time.”  and “This is my first time in a choral group, and I love it. We want to keep performing and Whistlestop was great to have us.”

Pat also noted that "Not only the seniors eating lunch, but the Whistlestop volunteers who work in the café and the kitchen staff were enthralled by the energy and uniqueness of the chorus."

And the media updates keep coming with Marinscope's Monique Baptista reporting on August 21, 2013:  "Whistlestop's Senior Concert Rocks All Ages" in The Mill Valley Herald.

What benefits have you received by singing in a chorus?  We'd love to know.


Post by Marian Hubler

Photos by Peter Merts

Slide show by Lauren Arrow 


Rate this blog entry:
3353 Hits

'Singing Surgeon' Eases Stress by Mixing Music and Medicine

Dr. Laura Esserman

It is 8 a.m., and Dr. Laura Esserman, the "singing surgeon" at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) readies her patient for surgery, as usual, by singing a song as the patient is wheeled into the operating room. 

This particular patient (who wishes to remain anonymous) happens to be a former Bread & Roses Board member and long-time supporter.

The patient already knew about the scientific data attesting to the healing power of music. Yet it wasn't until she found herself going into surgery last fall that she truly understood the immediate and positive effect that live music can have.

Dr. Esserman had told the patient, "Pick your song," and her choice was James Taylor's "Shower the People You Love With Love." 

Having practiced its beautiful harmonies, Dr. Esserman and her staff were all smiles as they sang and wheeled our friend from the prep room into surgery.

Of her experience at the UCSF Cancer Clinic, our supporter said this surgeon was both "rock star as well as life-saver." 

Dr. Esserman provides a positive affirmation of the healing power of live music. She says that singing "creates a warm and supportive atmosphere that serves as an antidote to the fear usually engendered by a diagnosis of cancer and the trepidation of going into a foreign place for a surgical procedure."  

She also relayed in a recent interview that she comes from a musical family and has been singing all her life. "I know every musical from Sigmund Romberg on and I can regale almost anyone with familiar Broadway songs. It was the family tradition to sing all the songs from new musicals," she said.   

She also plays piano, has sung in choruses, and performed in musical theater while in high school, college and medical school. She started an a capella group when she was in residency called "Chord Blue." Today she sings in an acoustic-guitar based band called "6 Strings Attached" with environmental attorney Vic Sher and UCSF neurosurgeon Phil Weinstein. 

With a very busy professional life as a breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Esserman is also head of UCSF's Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center and a professor of surgery and radiology. She makes time for music in her life and says "I love to sing, and it makes me happy to do so."

She started integrating music with medicine by singing to her patients many years ago when she was in the OR waiting for an anesthesiologist to arrive for an emergency case. 

"Everyone was quite stressed and I asked the person I was operating on if she liked music and she said her favorite was from The Phantom of the Opera. So I immediately began to sing and she just loved it. Her blood pressure dropped about thirty points, and mine did too."

From then on, Dr. Esserman decided that she would sing her patients to 'sleep'. She gives people the option of picking a song they love or having her pick one for them. Of the overall effect that music has on a patient getting ready for surgery, Dr. Esserman says "It is a wonderful way of taking away the stress of going into an operating room. It is also a way to really focus on the patient and what they want and need at that moment." 

Dr. Esserman talks about the benefit music has for her as well. "It is something I can give to people -- to use my musical gifts to make the experience of surgery a little easier and it is something that gives me joy as well. So it is a win for everyone (except maybe the anesthesiologist)!" 


Blog Post Contributed by Marian Hubler           





Rate this blog entry:
4387 Hits

On ABC's 20/20: Gabrielle Giffords Finds Her Voice Through Music

Highlights from Diane Sawyer's interview with Gabrielle Giffords which aired on ABC's 20/20 on November 14, 2011.

A few weeks ago ABC's 20/20 with Diane Sawyer aired an inspirational segment on Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who in January 2011 suffered from a near-fatal shooting, leaving her in critical condition for several weeks and severely damaging her brain. In the special, Diane Sawyer interviews Giffords for the first time since her injury, and showcases Giffords' amazing spirit, determination and courage.

Due to the injuries Giffords had suffered from receiving a bullet point blank to the head, she was afflicted with aphasia, the inability to speak due to damage to the linguistic pathways in the brain. Yet in the 11 months since the shooting, she has made remarkable progress, and has regained much of her speech and motor skills, a triumph that can be attributed in part to music therapy.

The bullet had mostly damaged the left side of Giffords' brain, the part that controls speech. The words were there, but she had to find a different route to access them. It was through song that she was able to attach rhythm and melody to words, and thus create a new neural pathway to language. You might wonder how music accomplishes this. According to neurologist and best-selling author, Oliver Sacks, "Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music." This is because music is able to activate visual, motor, coordination and emotion centers in both hemispheres of the brain. Thus one can use music to retrain the brain in order to compensate for brain damage.

Continue reading
Rate this blog entry:
5639 Hits

Live Music as a Connecting Force: Violinist Robert Gupta Plays at LA Mental Health Clinic on KQED California Report

Robert Gupta's story is an inspiration to us all: not only does he play first chair violin for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he is also their youngest performer, having joined the orchestra in 2007 at the age of 19. What is perhaps most remarkable about this young prodigy is that in addition to his professional music career, he also directs his own free concert series, The Street Symphony, which brings live classical music to the homeless and mentally ill on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. KQED's California Report recently did an audio story on Robert's social service outreach, which includes comments from the patients after his concert. You can listen to the report here.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Bread & Roses serves a number of residential mental health facilities at major hospitals including short-term units at San Francisco General, and California Pacific Medical Center, as well as longer-term treatment facilities such as Cordilleras in Redwood City and Canyon Manor in Novato.  Among our most challenging audiences, we know that mental health patients, particularly those who are also homeless, can be hard to engage and at the same time, are often deeply appreciative of and positively affected by music's healing force.

Gupta's interest in music as therapy for the mentally ill was perhaps inspired in 2008 when he met and began tutoring Nathanial Ayers, the schizophrenic musical virtuoso who is the subject of the bestselling book, The Soloist by L.A. Times columnist, Steve Lopez. Many of you might be familiar with the film adaptation, which stars Jamie Fox and Robert Downey Jr. Of his time working with Ayers, Gupta remarked that he was struck by how music seemed to calm Ayers and act as a sort of medicine or therapy. It was at that time that Robert began The Street Symphony.

Continue reading
Rate this blog entry:
4727 Hits

“The Power of Music to Affect the Brain”

The Power of Music cover

At Bread & Roses every day, we are privileged to witness the healing power of music, and today scientists and neurologists are confirming what we’ve known for over 37 years: that “humans are hardwired to respond to music.”  

Listen to this June 1st interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, where he interviews Elena Mannes, author of The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song. Esteemed neurologist and president of the Society for Music Perception and CognitionAni Patel joins in on the conversation. There is also a link to the transcript, as well as an excerpt from the book when you view the story on NPR's website.

How have you been affected by the power of music? Please share on our blog or our Facebook page.





Rate this blog entry:
4427 Hits

The Music Never Stopped: Share Your Thoughts on Music, Memory and Healing

Bread & Roses serves people of all ages and backgrounds who are isolated in institutions. Some of them suffer from lapses in memory.  We have seen seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, who may not recognize their grandchildren, but are still able to recall all the lyrics of a song.

Those who know the power that music has to invoke memory will appreciate The Music Never Stopped, a 2011 Sundance Film Festival pick that examines the relationship between memory, music, and healing. In the film, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), is reunited with his parents, Henry (J.K. Simmons) and Helen Sawyer (Cara Seymour), when he turns up at a hospital in New York in 1986 with a large, yet benign brain tumor that has severely damaged his memory.  The past, present and future are virtually indistinguishable for him and he is incapable of interacting with those around him, including his parents, from whom he’s been estranged for 20 years.

When medicine and traditional therapy fail to help Gabriel regain his memory, Henry contacts a music therapist, Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond), who discovers that when Gabriel listens to the music that he loved as an adolescent, especially the Grateful Dead, he is able to reconnect with the world. We all have a soundtrack to our lives, and somehow that musical memory seems to survive even the most traumatic of brain injuries.

This movie is based on “The Last Hippie,” a case study in the anthology, An Anthropologist on Mars by renowned neurologist and music therapy advocate, Oliver Sacks, who is also the author of Awakenings, Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. Although the movie has an indie feel, Jim Kohlberg's directorial debut deftly captures the astonishing power of music to bring hope and healing to a man crippled and isolated by a neurological disease. When Gabriel listens to music that is familiar to him, Henry is able to communicate and bond with his son.

Perhaps, the best part of this film is the soundtrack which perfectly encapsulates the story and includes three previously unreleased tracks by the Grateful Dead, as well as music by Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Buffalo Springfield. Each of these musicians felt strongly enough about this movie to donate the rights to their music, without which Kohlberg would not have been able to make the film.

So, whether you are a Dead-head, an all-around music lover or are simply interested in psychology and the science behind music therapy, this movie will touch you, and encourage you to think about the connection between music, memory and experience. Think about it, if all you had was music to remind you of who you are, what songs would be included on the soundtrack to your life?


Rate this blog entry:
6226 Hits

Our "Music Therapy" in Marin Magazine

Thanks to Executive Editor Jim Wood & our friends at Marin Magazine for the nice piece in the August issue in their "FYI: Causes" section about Bread & Roses mission to provide hope and healing through live music.  Marin Magazine staff attended several recent Bread & Roses programs at the Manzanita Child Development Center in Marin City,  The Cedars in Ross and the Canal Family Support Center in San Rafael.  Kudos also to performers Ira Marlowe (singer-songwriter/guitarist), San Domenico's Virtuoso program (classical music) and Johnny Kearns (magician/clown/juggler).   Your support means so much...  

Marin Magazine: Music Therapy

Rate this blog entry:
4266 Hits

Music Therapy for Alzheimer's Patients

Bread & Roses brings hope and healing through live music. As this article from the Wall Street Journal suggests - music therapy holds a key for unlocking healing potential in Alzheimer's patients. We can attest to the healing quality of music for all of our audiences that listen to a Bread & Roses show. Click here to read the full article.

Here is a snippet of the Wall Street Journal article:

"Caregivers have observed for decades that Alzheimer's patients can still remember and sing songs long after they've stopped recognizing names and faces. Many hospitals and nursing homes use music as recreation, since it brings patients pleasure. But beyond the entertainment value, there's growing evidence that listening to music can also help stimulate seemingly lost memories and even help restore some cognitive function."

"'What I believe is happening is that by engaging very basic mechanisms of emotions and listening, music is stimulating dormant areas of the brain that haven't been accessible due to degenerative disease,' says Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, a nonprofit organization founded at Beth Abraham in 1995."

"Dr. Tomaino, who has studied the therapeutic effects of music for more than 30 years, is spearheading a new program to provide iPods loaded with customized playlists to help spread the benefits of music therapy to Alzheimer's patients even at home. "If someone loved opera or classical or jazz or religious music, or if they sang and danced when the family got together, we can recreate that music and help them relive those experiences," she says."

Photo by Peter Merts


Rate this blog entry:
6281 Hits

Connect With Us


facebook30x30 youtube30x30 blog30x30 twitter30x30   Instagram



calnonprofits logo

Community Engagement Award