Opening speech of Kauniainen Music Festival

31.10.2013 hrs 15:38
A speech by Archiatre Risto Pelkonen in the first concert of Kauniainen Music Festival 2010 - the very first Kauniainen Music Festival

Health from arts – Archiatre Risto Pelkonen

"A music festival is a meeting point for many worlds. Current and past, new and old, word and music, arts and science, song and play meet here - people from different parts of the world, artists and art lovers, young and old, individual and society, East and West, North and South.

Music is continuously growing indispensable valuable cultural capital. And it is a renewing source or energy common for everyone in the world - without any borders.

With Richard Wagner’s words: ”Music starts where words end.” True. But one can say another way, too. In the human evolution of millions of years song came first, words came only afterwards.

No one really knows how music has influenced the evolution of human species. Anyway, the core of musicality seems to be part of the family of genes which controls inter personal attachment and ability to commit to the other members of the species. In fact music has worked as a guide on our long tour through the times. The social activity and behaviour it created has been an advantage for our survival.

Every time we play, compose or listen to music we meet the millions of year’s old wordless message which we transfer horizontally to our fellow individuals and vertically to new generations. Ars longa vita brevis – art long, life short.

We are all member in the cultivation of the spirit the harvest of which maybe passes from generation to generation with the memes – resembling genes – and the harvest of which grows to be a common cultural asset for all of us. In broader perspective everything people create is culture.Although our bodies decompose, our finger prints in the culture – words, melodies, pictures and forms – remain alive in the mind landscapes of the future generations. With Goethe’s words:

"Small is the ring Enclosing our life, And whole generations Link themselves firmly On to existence's Chain never-ending."

(From poem: THE BOUNDARIES OF HUMANITY. Translated in the original metres by Edgar Alfred Bowring,

Harmony of body and soul

What essentially is the subject when we talk about health and arts – and health received through arts? - We talk about the very essence of health.

Health is not a separate matter which either exists or does not exist. But health is the human person her or him self. A person healthy in one way may be unhealthy in another way. And an unhealthy person is always healthy one way or the other.

Every human individual gets at birth a double citizenship: one in the realm of health, one in that of illness. And everyone travels through the life in the terrain between healthiness and illness.
Originally the word health has had the meaning of unbroken in Finnish – and this is the case still in many related languages.

Pitchy wood is firm and durable; an elderly person may be strong as a pitchy stump (a Finnish idiom, the core of a pitchy pine stump has a very long life, translator’s comment). The feeling of integrity reflects well the experience of healthiness as a harmony between the soul and the body. A serious disease is a threat against the integrity of the individual, against the existence as a human individual. Therefore, a serious disease includes existential nuances.

The sources of healthiness are not inside the cell, but in the psycho-social reality where children grow up to adulthood, where the adults live their active periods and where the elderly people live the twilight of their lives. The development of the child is influenced already by the conditions in the womb of the mother.

So, the healthiness of the citizens does not depend only on the actions within the health care system, but also on the life outside of it. According to a high quality British medical journal the health of the citizens would improve and the thread of a good life would lengthen if even a small share of the health care resources were given to cultural activities.

Long known

When we talk about arts as a source of healthiness, we can open the Book of Proverbs: “A merry heart does well like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

The thoughts of the memorable physician Elias Lönrot about the relations of the soul and body, mind and soma were similar. Lönnrot said: “The emotions impact the body, too, for the mind and body are closely related so that neither of them will suffer separately. Rest, hope, satisfaction and modest joy keep the human person healthy and sometimes even heal a diseased person.”

In another context the same man reflects the interaction between landscape and human mind. He thinks that a human person living in a depressing environment is melancholic, serious and reticent. But where the nature is merrier and the environment more varied the merrier are the human mood and the celebrations of play...

Lönnrot was right. Folk songs are in minor tone in the Eastern Finland core area of high incidences of heart diseases. But people sing in major tones in Western Finland.

The biology of mind and emotions

We know now that the mind and emotions, the nervous system, hormones as well as the immunological defence system are in close mutual balanced interaction.

Any emotion experienced to be uncomfortable and having remained smouldering in the mind disturbs this balance. It dampens down the defensive capacity of the body and exposes the person to diseases. And vice versa, esthetical experiences and positive life experiences promote healthiness and well-being.

Overall, study of relationships between health and arts is in the core of bio-psychological medicine. This tells us something very essential about the biology of mind and emotions.

A lot of vivid discussion has been conducted about where the mind or soul really stay at, where do poems, fairytales, melodies, dreams and fantasies reside. It is not known. A common understanding exists about that emotions cannot exist separate from all material brain activity. But no one really knows and will perhaps never know how spirit and matter shake hands with each other. So, no worries, we will never get to know everything. Secrets will remain, and dreams and fantasies will remain.

Arts in hospital

Finland has participated in a number of ways to the international Arts in Hospital or Health from culture project which started about thirty years ago. Nowadays we know that the esthetical quality factors in the health care milieu like architecture as well as works of art in the patient spaces have a major impact to health.

Pauline von Bonsdorff has written very beautifully about the harmonic atmosphere of silent ethics as an important factor in the remedial process. Arts in a hospital building are not just a decoration. But they are silent aesthetics. They are humanity included in being of help. They raise hope for an unhealthy person and give strength for the personnel. Arts in a hospital really are a source for treating and recovering.

In the close neighbourhood, in the Kauniala hospital a beautiful arts therapy project named “Silta sieluun” – Bridge to soul – has been started. Aided by arts, bridges have been created within the soul of the patient as well as between the patient and the physician and nurse.

Music repairing brain damages

Arts have been used as a tool for treatment since the Antique. The objective for arts therapy is to help the human individual to bear carrying the burden from the disease, to raise hope and to ease anxiety. But it also is a functioning treatment method. The methods of arts therapy include the whole broad field of arts, e.g. visual arts, literature, music, photographic and dance therapies.

A high quality report published recently in Finland about the impact of music to recovery from a stroke tells in a convincing way about the meaning of music therapy. It turned out that listening favourite music for one to two hours a day for two months improved the linguistic capacity of a stroke patient clearly more than the talking books used in the reference group or no music at all.

The biological back ground of the phenomenon is known poorly. Perhaps listening to music catalyses a reparatory process in the damaged connections of the nervous network in the human brain.

Library card – a passport to a good life

It has been said that arts has the function to give life a mind and that the effects of arts to healthiness are based on encounters. People with similar minds are encountered within cultural activities; an individual identifies oneself and connects oneself to a group. Even if one is alone in a concert and does not know the neighbouring people, still one is not alone but belongs to the group of like-minded people, who have come to the same concert and chosen the very same work of art. Even here everyone is separate as an individual, still we are together.

Being with a group, encountering other people and experiencing togetherness are an essential part of social assets. Arts open a closed door from loneliness to the outer world with other people. A human person is human in a relationship to other human persons.

Social capital is internal cohesion within and participation to a group – a population or part of a population. It tells about the strength of the spirit of togetherness, about mutual trust and about the ranking of common activities within the group. A Finnish expert in the discipline Markku Hyyppä, regards the choir tradition as a symbol of the Finnish national social capital – as one kind of life style - as a source of health – and as a hobby predicting long life.

The objects of social participation are very different. They can be related to music, theatre and film arts. But club activity or church fellowship activity, sports or nature may be objects of social participation as well.

Scientific research in Finland and elsewhere show that cultural activities and social participation promote health, improve quality of life and increases life expectancy. It has been said that a library card is a passport to a good life.

Arts in central role

A comprehensive Swedish research showed that during a long monitoring period the death risk was significantly lower among people who consumed culture actively and participated in cultural events than that of their passive fellow citizens.

The good health and long life of the Swedish speaking population in the Finnish cost areas have been explained to be caused by the social life style related to the strong social assets as well as by the related leisure activities. In fact Mr. Hyyppä has argued that diversified cultural interests promote healthiness more effectively than sports, dieting or terminating smoking. In my mind these are not comparable alternatives, but rather boost each other. The more intensively one engages to cultural activities, the less smoke or ham is needed.

So, arts are factors in healthiness, but they are not an alternative to modern medicine technology. But as only few diseases can be wholly cured, technology only is not enough to help people to live with their diseases. We will always have diseases with us – all pain and suffering cannot be avoided or cured. And death is a must.

With the words of the stoic, a good life is courage to do what is possible and temper of mind to approve what cannot be influenced. Here arts have a central role: to build a survival story, to help adapt to everyday reality as well as to strengthen control of life and self-knowledge.

Multilayered dialogue

Arts are valuable as such with an intrinsic value. The unique personal layer has primary value and is fundamental in meeting the arts. For each of us our relationship to a work of art includes different emotional and experience related, intellectual and theoretical as well as positive and even negative elements.
Music rises in the listener profound, strong and very different emotional states. But music can also suppress surges of emotions to tranquillity and storms of mind to calmness.

Creative arts are not created from scratch, but from the world of experience of the artist, from the images in the mind and from the artist’s relationship to the surrounding reality. So, the contents of the arts are not separate but real - and at the same time private and humane.

Therefore, the message of a work of art may help to look the world with new eyes, may help open blocked routes, may help open new bridges in the mind, may help understand one self’s state and may help to understand one’s relationship to another individual. This is a multi- layered dialogue. When meeting a work of art the viewer, listener or reader conducts a wordless dialogue between the message of the work of art and her or his mental pictures.

”Life without music is a mistake”

Due to humanity as their very starting point, works of art are tailor-made to catalyse releasing and therapeutic dialogue with other people. Sami Pirkola, a psychiatrist says: “When successful, a work of art clarifies something essential in a unique touching way. For many people music provides this kind of angel’s touch.” So says a psychiatrist!

One poem teaches of life more than a hundred pages of school psychology. One profound experience with arts – music, visual arts or literature – may produce an experience of purification called catharsis and may raise a longing to strive for the highest level of humanity.

In the end I want to pass you greetings from Chekhov. “Please, take note that the authors whom we regard as immortal or as just good and who intoxicate our heads, have one common and quite important feature; they are going somewhere and they invite you to go together with them. And you feel, not only with your reason but with your whole being that they have a goal.” (translation from Finnish). So, a goal!

The goal of life is life itself, the goal of music is music itself. So remain these three: beauty, goodness and truth.

The objective of this music festival is good life through science and arts. Life without music is a mistake.

I wish you all experience a touch of the music angel’s wing!"

- Archiatre Risto Pelkonen

In Finland Archiatre is the highest honorary title given a physician. There may be only one archiatre at a time.