Vail Valley: The benefits of Beethoven |

Vail Valley: The benefits of Beethoven

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyDr. Richard Kogan will talk about how music affects the resilliance of the mind Monday at Vail Mountain School in Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Like Ludwig van Beethoven, music was a part of Vail Symposium speaker Dr. Richard Kogan’s life from a very young age. He attended the Julliard pre-college to study piano at the age of six but it wasn’t until he was in college that Kogan became intrigued by the complexity of the mind and decided to become a psychiatrist. Of course that didn’t prevent him from continuing with his musical career as a concert pianist; instead it gave him special insights into the relationship between music and the mind.

But first, back to Beethoven.

The classical composer’s mind is the perfect case study for a psychiatrist – the kind of tortured genius books are written about and whose works have been studied, copied and puzzled over for centuries. Between bipolar behavior, depression, alcoholism, paranoid psychosis and thoughts of suicide despite fame and a successful career as a musician, it’s no wonder Beethoven was chosen as the subject of the Vail Symposium’s latest event: Music and the Mind – Beethoven and the Power of Resilience.

And it’s no wonder Kogan was chosen as the guest speaker for this event, which will take place at the Vail Mountain School Monday night. He said he believes that music can and should play a much larger role in the treatment of those with mental health problems and that historically, Beethoven is one of the best examples for that argument.

“Music has an unparalleled capacity to really improve mood, to reduce anxiety, to ease pain,” Kogan said.

Listening to music or creating it – basically any involvement with it – can help to heal or alleviate the negative symptoms of mental illness, Kogan said, and the more engaged one is with music, the stronger its effects can be.

So like music composition and performing helped Beethoven through some dark times in his life, picking up a guitar and plucking at the strings can also help someone find clarity when they’re struggling with depression. The spiritual and physical benefits of music are there to be seized by anyone who needs them.

“I think we have to look to something like music to provide as much healing benefit as possible,” Kogan said, arguing that it’s an untapped resource in a world of expensive health care plans and technological advances that don’t always solve mental health issues.

And as the Vail Symposium focuses on rethinking many of society’s larger, more complex issues this year, Vail Symposium executive director Carrie Marsh said that using music as a force to strengthen the mind is often overlooked as an option.

“In a season of Rethink! we will learn how music can be a tool in tough times, aid in creativity and can transform us,” Marsh said.

Kogan said the format for the evening’s event would be part lecture and discussion about Beethoven’s life – his struggles and achievements – and part performance. He will play selections of Beethoven’s work that represent the different stages of his career and give keen insight into what Beethoven was going through personally when he composed each piece.

“This evening will be very unique. You will have the chance to really get to know Beethoven and what was behind his creative genius through discussion and performance,” Marsh said.

Kogan called Beethoven’s story one of the most extraordinary and traumatic examples of transcendence over adversity. The very fact that he lost his hearing yet kept composing and playing music is proof of that. Kogan called that crisis potentially catastrophic to the career of any musician but said that Beethoven actually became a better composer after he went deaf.

“He retreated into the silent world of his imagination and used not just his musical gifts, but his strength of character not to give in to this obstacle but to push past it,” Kogan said.

Vail resident Todger Anderson will open up his home for a private dinner and continued discussion following Kogan’s lecture and performance. Anderson’s goal is to allow the intellectual stimulation from the formal side of Kogan’s presentation to overflow into an informal atmosphere.

“I personally believe that insights are developed from having your thought process jogged in an informal way … in providing a setting in my home where people will have an opportunity in a small group to reflect on what they heard in a lecture and to hear some wonderful music,” Anderson said.

The private dinner and discussion will also include performances by a trio from the New York Philharmonic – Mindy Kaufman on flute, Fiona Simon on violin and Irene Breslaw on viola . They will play Beethoven Serenade, Opus 25. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Vail Symposium.

Kaufman, a 30-year flute player with the New York Philharmonic, said that the piece is intimate and fitting for the setting and really allows the three instruments to be heard distinctly while working in unison.

“It’s amazing the sounds that Beethoven gets out of only the three instruments,” Kaufman said.

Like Kogan, she feels that music has made her a stronger, happier person throughout her life – a more complete person.

“I like experiencing the emotions through music,” Kaufman said. “A great composer really lets you have all these different emotions in the music and it just makes you feel alive.”

Each person involved in the evening’s program has a love for music and education. Organizers hope guests will walk away with the same appreciation and sense of discovery that music can bring to the mind.

“Music is a basic component of the pleasure of life for most people. It’s basically been around forever. It’s a very important subject,” Anderson said.

Charlie Owen is the summer press liasion for the Vail Symposium.

What: The Vail Symposium’s Music and the Mind: Beethoven and the Power of Resilience featuring an educational performance with Dr. Richard Kogan.

When: Monday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dinner and a reception with a trio from the New York Philharmonic follows at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lecture is at Vail Mountain School; the reception is at a private residence.

Cost: $25 ($20 for Vail Symposium donors) for the lecture; $125 for the lecture, reception and dinner.

More information: Call 970-476-0954 or visit

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