Archive for the ‘Music Education’ category

What’s Different About a Teenage Brain?

May 1st, 2011
Montogomery County MD band students

L-R: Senior Niraj Raju (trombone), junior Andrew Simmons (tuba) and senior Julia Maas (violin) of the Montgomery County, MD Youth Orchestra -

Back in the 1970’s, I made a discovery that seemed unique to me. As a young teacher, musician, band, orchestra and Jazz ensemble director, it was my unexpected pleasure to discover that junior high and middle school aged students had an unbelievable capacity to learn and to excel. This discovery was recently confirmed in an article which appeared in a special edition of U.S. News and World Report, “Secrets of Your Brain,” by Nancy Shute entitled, “How to Deploy the Amazing Power of  the Teen Brain.

Early on in my teaching career, I discovered a mystery of life that, until Nancy’s article, seemed rather extraordinary to me, but I had no scientific evidence to back it up. Before the use of MRI’s beginning in the 1990’s, it was impossible to know what nuanced changes were occurring in the brains of teenagers, but that is not the case today. Of course, the neurologists still don’t understand all of the myriad details of change that appear to be occurring, but they can make certain not so speculative statements about these changes. According to the article, what they found astonished them. The brain’s gray matter, which forms the bulk of the structure and processing capacity, grows gradually throughout childhood, peaks around age 12, and then furiously prunes underused neurons.

Because these changes begin in the back of the brain and move forward, sensory and motor skills mature first followed by the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for judgment and impulse control. According to the scientists at the NIH, the prefrontal and cortex isn’t done until the early 20’s or later in men. The following quote from the article, however, should be the basis for all of the arts education in the United States, “Neurons, like muscles, operate on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis: a teenager who studies piano three hours a day will end up with different brain wiring than someone who spends that same time shooting hoops or playing video games. “Eureka!”

 Grown-Up Brain - USNWR - Nick Jacobs, FACHE -

When we consider that during the teenage years, emotion and passion also heighten attention and tramp down fear, teenagehood turns out to be the perfect time to master new challenges. According to Frances Jensen, a neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, “They can do things now that will set them up later in life with an enhanced skill set.” Of course, the 70’s in semi-rural America did not harbor all of the challenges that we face now for our teenagers, but challenges did exist. What I had discovered in my work was by treating the teenagers more closely as peers than subservient children, while still maintaining control, by allowing them to work with you to select and enumerate their goals, and finally by encouraging them along the way, their passions and intensity would take the music and their performances to heights that would have seemed otherwise incomprehensible.

Music arranged for teenaged performing groups was typically watered down and lacked both emotion and challenge. Because of that, it was my choice to make musical scores available to them that would have been considered too mature, too challenging and too far beyond their comprehension. The trade off, however, was that we were careful never to let them hear any of those “too hard” descriptors. The results were stupefying. The kids worked endlessly and tirelessly to make sure these musical scores were mastered. Because their parents were, in many cases, second generation immigrants, they worked to ensure that the kids had: 1.) Plenty of sleep 2.) Healthy foods 3.) No drugs or alcohol.

The U.S. News article concluded with something that was instinctive to me: “Nature had a reason to give adolescents strong bodies, impulsive natures, and curious flexible minds.” It was the stuff from which scholars, great artists and future leaders were made, and to all of my former students who have been so incredibly successful…I hope you’ve tried to give your children these same experiences!

Nick Jacobs speaks to youth on the future of healthcare

Health 2.0 Leadership (1 of 2) from Nick Jacobs, FACHE on Vimeo.


I Remember Stephen

June 2nd, 2010

In the 1970’s, my career was wrapped completely around teaching, not just teaching, but teaching and playing music.  It was during that decade that my trumpet playing reached its peak, and between the numerous big bands in the area, I could play at least two weekend and one weekday nights every week.  The music was good, the musicians were friends, and the audiences were appreciative.

Johnstown Pennsylvania - A History - Part 2 - Randy WhittleThe Lemon Drop, Casa Romani, Mynderbinders, Bimbo’s, the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, and a dozen other clubs with mostly ethnic or fraternal names were the sites of many a part-time playing job.  Be it the Johnstown Jazz Workshop, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ice Capades, or Disney on Ice, my playing salary for the year often rivaled my teaching salary; neither of which came to more than $500 a month.

Along with those playing “gigs” there was one other primary, part -time employment opportunity and that was teaching private trumpet lessons.  It was my choice to teach at the Johnstown College of Music which was owned by Peg and Bob Hornick.  My schedule there was always packed full from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.  There were kids of all ages from all school districts, and in the 1970’s those kids helped me pay the mortgage.  Even though I was usually pretty tired by 9:00 PM and often dreamed of learning to sleep with my eyes open, I never did.

One of my smallest students was Steve.  He was a little toe-headed, 7th grader from Forest Hills when he came to me, and he loved music.  He loved the fact that he was learning to play the trumpet from a professional and each week he got a little better.  Steve understood what it meant to work for something that he loved, and he didn’t mind getting an occasional tongue lashing if he hadn’t focused enough on his practicing that week.

Well, one night in 1976, I rushed through dinner, grabbed my jacket, and started for the door when my son, then three years old, stopped me and said, “Daddy, where are you going?”  I explained that I had to go to work.  He very slowly replied, “Daddy, you just came home from work.”  I signed and said, “I know, buddy, but I have to make some extra money.”  He looked at me quizzically and said, “What for, Daddy?”   To which I countered, “To buy you shoes.”  At that point he looked up at me and said in a very stern voice, “Daddy, I have shoes; please don’t leave me.”

It broke my heart to leave that night, but I did because I knew that I had an obligation, and when my first student walked in the door, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Steve, I’m here for you tonight, “ but those words were never spoken.
Ironically, there was an obituary in the newspaper last week, and it was an obituary for a 47 year old man who also left behind a son.  The age and the picture drew me further into the printed word where I read a name that seemed strangely familiar to me, Stephen Yanzetich.  It was Steve, my Steve, little 7th grade, toe-headed Steve who shared me that night.

Unbelievably, after 34 or so years, in his parting recognition, the author acknowledged that I had taught Steve trumpet, and as I sat back and read my own name in that obituary, I realized, once again, that it had been worth it, that 34 years later my time with Steve had been important to both of us.  That simple acknowledgement said to me, “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for caring enough about me to teach me all of those nights.”  To which I can candidly reply,”Thank you, Steve, for being such a good kid, and may God bless you.”


April 2nd, 2009

Let me open this blog with a little housekeeping chore. Because I’ve retired from being a hospital president (Yes, they replaced me with two great people, count ‘em, two.) , I’d like to change the name of this thing. It’s not that I’ve established a P-Diddy-type Twitter following where 100,000 human beings are waiting with baited breath to see what my next move will be, it just doesn’t seem right to keep calling myself a hospital president. We know who reads this thing, and we are grateful to our loyal, talented, and brilliant followers. We also know that we can link the old blog names to get you here. So, regardless of what you typed, or what gets Googled, our genius social media maven & webmaster, Michael Russell, can help to bring you home to this site.

Okay, so as a transformational advisor, a broker of sorts, most people with whom we have consulted have described me as a person who can fix things that are broken before they actually break. Maybe we should call it the “Break it if it’s not already fixed” blog. I’d love it if it was a name that would generate millions of hits and companies would fight to advertise on it.

My first thought was to use nickjacobs in the title because there is a Nick Jacobs on Facebook who teaches Aboriginal people in Australia, and he seems popular. There is another Nick Jacobs who is a professional organist, and one who is an athlete. There’s a Nick Jacobs who is a consultant and another a paramedic in London, one who had a blog who is a yachtsman, there’s my son, the commercial real estate broker, and finally, there’s a Nick Jacobs who does pornographic movies who is not my son. Actually, that Nick Jacobs’ followers would probably be the most disappointed by this blog.

Since the .com version of nick jacobs was already taken by some guy in England, we captured, and that will work for right now.

If you have any ideas, however, that you think would really rock the blogspere, let us know and we’ll check with our domain registrar to see if it is available. In fact, if you are the winner of a Name Nick’s Blog Contest, I’d be happy to consult for free BY PHONE for at least one hour of brainstorming with you about the topic of your choice: music, healthcare, proteomics, teaching, PR/Marketing, the travel business, or even physician recruitment.

Remember, Hospital Impact is already taken, and, because my last three consulting jobs have been with a newspaper, a nonprofit arts oragnization, and a chain of hotels, we don’t want to think too restrictively. Gotta earn a little money, too.

When we ran the breast center, we found that the website got more hits than anyone could imagine. The problem was that the readers were mostly thirteen-year-old boys who probably weren’t too interested in running a hospital. After Miss America had visited us, the hits went up exponentially when those two searches were combined. Somehow, I don’t think that Nick Jacobs’ Breast Center for Miss America would probably get me the type of following I’m currently hoping to attract. On the other hand?

A very good friend recently asked me to write a brief bio about what my new life is like, and it struck me that it is very much like my old life but without any restrictions. This is what I wrote:

While teaching junior high school instrumental music in the early 1970’s, Nick Jacobs made an extraordinary discovery. He learned that, by empowering his students and surrounding them with positive influences, he no longer was providing a service or even an experience for them.

What this entirely unique teaching style resulted in was a method for helping to transform students. By providing with both passion and commitment the tools needed by them to undertake their journey, his involvement with the students became a means of dramatically helping them to make whatever positive life changes they were seeking.

It was during that early period in his career that he also discovered that this formula could work to positively change lives in almost any aspect of living as he ran an arts organization, a convention bureau, and finally a hospital and research institute.

Since that time he has dedicated his personal work to helping others make their lives better, and that is exactly what he is doing in his position as an international executive consultant with SunStone Consulting, LLC.

Maybe that will give you something to chew on? Okay, something on which to chew.

SunStone Consulting. With more than 20 years experience in executive hospital leadership, Nick has an acknowledged reputation for innovation and patient-centered care approaches to health and healing.


How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

February 9th, 2009

When civilizations are evaluated, there are numerous indicators that are used to demonstrate their relevance, their contributions to the world, and their donations to the future. As a young musician, one of my college professors predicted that our culture would begin to decline as a military, economic, and artistic world power. He pointed toward what he described as primary indicators of this decay, and he saw the decline of music in our schools as one of those indicators.

Overall, this professor was more than concerned about the role of public education in the future of our country and once described our form of public education as an experiment that would eventually prove to be ineffective. He saw the effort as a misguided attempt to squeeze all different shapes, sizes, and types of personalities, intellects, and skills into a single classroom, which he called a “melting pot of mediocrity.”

That professor also used to teach us about the writings of Marshall McLuhan from the University of Toronto who indicated that television would change the manner in which we lived our lives. His book The Medium is the Message made us all begin to look at the influence of television on society.

McLuhan described the fact that in visual space we used to think of things as continuous and connected. In either the auditory senses or the sense of touch, there are only resonances. There is no real continuity in our other senses. The fact that we have become the visual wo/man, through television, and that visual orientation has produced a collage that is neither continuous nor connected, has resulted in the reality that even our visual perceptions have lost their continuity.

It is well-known that music nurtures both the right and left sides of the brain, and that those who study music have intellectual opportunities that literally may not exist for those who don’t. The challenge is not just one of music as entertainment, but music as part of our intellectual training. So the question is, as in the James Ingram song lyric, “How do we keep the music playing?”

Young music teacher Nick Jacobs meets musical hero Maynard Ferguson What does this all mean? In 1972, my professor indicated that we were leaning toward a different type of society that would learn, participate, and act in a different way. One of his greatest fears though was that, due to this lack of continuous connection, those who would take charge of our educational systems would not recognize the importance of music as part of education and that music would begin to be downgraded, minimized, and even dropped from public education. Thus reading, writing, arithmetic, and the arts became reading, writing, and test scores.

If we look at the dramatic decline in participation in music education over the past 30 years, he was not far from wrong. The answer to the question of how this has impacted us as a society may not be totally clear for a few decades, but as we look across the overall educational landscape and see these chasms of deprivation from exposure to the arts that already exist, it seems relatively obvious that we have and will pay the price for ignoring those subjective, intellectually stimulating programs that spawn creativity and lead to new and better ways to form our futures.

Remember, from science fiction comes science, from dreams come creations, and from fertile minds come our professional careers. The high-quality drama teacher, vocal instructor, or orchestra director who helped many of us find our way to where we are today is many times not employed anymore, and last week we saw the arts cut once again from the stimulus package. In 1987, I read that more physicians had studied music as a discipline than any other single concentration in both high school and undergraduate work. Will tomorrow’s physicians be nurtured by music, and if not, at what cost to society?


Knowing Enough About Systems to be Dangerous

May 30th, 2008

From the age of about eight until 20 years ago, my entire life was immersed in music, education, the arts and, in a very pure way, people in general.  It was a complex world that required a deep, intuitive understanding of the human condition on multiple levels.  In a very general way, that life, (pre-health care management) was all about systems.  

Obviously, it was never just about one or two individuals, and it was not about life and death, but it was magnificently complex in its own way. It involved working with  people to do something that was extremely challenging, that required incredible hand/eye co-ordination, and an ensemble mindset of co-operativeness that was paramount to success.  Most importantly, it required them to listen intently to each other so as to find the perfect balance, blend and intonation. 

The nuances of taking a systemic approach to the creation of music through the efforts of an ensemble in many ways have escaped our world of healing, at least until now. 

At a recent visit to my dentist, he and his hygienist were talking about the fact that the doc had just taken a continuing medical education course.  When he was asked if anything new had evolved from his class, he smiled and said, "Well, for the first time in 28 years of practice, they admitted that the mouth is connected to the body."  He went on to elaborate about the fact that each and every day he sees the destruction caused by inflammatory disease of the gums, and then told me about his attempts to communicate that information to a physician friend several years ago.  "It just didn't register," he said. 

What little we know about inflammatory disease has us dutifully brushing our dog's teeth to prevent a heart condition, yet we still do not have direct lines of communication between our primary or cardiac physicians and the the dentists who see these problems as they manifest themselves in our body.  

Someone once told me that Descartes' Treatise of Man played a major role in the imposed medical and emotional separation of the brain from the body, as it clearly took the stand that "Hospitals and physicians should take care of the body while the church takes care of the mind and the soul."

One of our scientific collaborators, Dr. Lee Hood, is famous for his work in Systems Biology.  Another collaborator, Georgetown University, is involved in the creation of a medical school program revolving around Systems Medicine, and finally, our Optimal Healing Environment collaborator, the Samueli Institute, is focused on Systems Wellness.  In spite of these wonderful leaps into what would have to be considered common sense approaches to health and life, we still sometimes miss the ensemble approach.

My recommendation? 

Maybe it would help our healers to take their place on the podium, look at every one of the 30 plus lines of music on the score, raise the baton and begin to direct their way through every nuance, inflection, and harmonious signature present in a score of music with the appropriate rhythm, intonation and accents just to remind themselves that; we human beings are basically all made up of systems as well, and those systems will not function smoothly if one is completely out of sync with the other." 

This is something that we all know intuitively.  Maybe immersing ourselves in that world for a while will help bring that concept totally back into focus.  It's all about harmony, balance and nature's perfection, and a disjointed approach to health is as potentially harmful as a disjointed approach to life.