You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how inspiring music is; it feeds the soul; over this there can be no controversy. But as a psychologist, I am always curious about what music does for mental health, its impact on our emotions and states of well- being to be specific.
In Tessellations, performed at The DiMenna Center in New York City, composer and artist Philippe Treuille has paired his music with his own visual art to offer a multi-sensory experience that’s transporting and inspiring. Listening and watching felt like a new way to enjoy music that could engage anyone young and old. Listening to Tessellations was a mood elevator and a joy, listen and see for yourself below.
The health benefits of music are well proven. According to research from Northshore University Health System of Chicago, music stimulates memories that wrap themselves around us; it increases levels of serotonin and endorphins, which in turn elevate mood and relieve depression. Music also reduces blood pressure and lowers the stress chemical cortisol. It is heart, brain and body healthy...the right kind of prescription for what ails us. And if that isn’t enough, it reduces stress levels and physical pain. By offering a strong, competing stimulus to pain signals that enter the brain, music helps the listener to experience less pain.
The health benefits extend to the creator as well. For this article I interviewed composer Philippe Treuille about his process of composing; he revealed not only how he works, but what composing does for him. “Sublimating my ideas into music is an important part of my own mental health”, he shares. “Whether the ideas come to me in dreams, or during my daily routines, I depend on the ability to sort through thoughts that are musical, as much as those which are non-musical. Classical music specifically gives me a feeling of freedom”.
For me, a part of any live concert is the wonderful tuning of the orchestra, watching the musicians move from somber people dressed in black to channels of outrageous beauty. I also love observing the intense and inspired emotions on the face of the composer and in the spring of their step.
I am always curious about what has gone on behind the scenes. “Organizing concerts is also a meaningful part of the musical process” continues Philippe. “I can connect with the performers who will play my music on a personal level as we prepare for the event, and that helps enormously to fine-tune the musical ideas that come to mind while composing. It’s very inspiring to collaborate on a production with people of many walks of life, because it eases the sense of isolation that can come with composing music alone”.
Live Forever Live Forever, Treuille’s second piece at the DiMenna Center was a georgeous tribute, inspired by his conversation with Nobel Prize-winning Mathematician John Nash and his wife Alicia. A 25 minute piece, scored by Philippe for flute soloist, Live Forever is beautifully played by Daniela Mars on (Daniela Mars), French Horn and conducted by Jean-Pierre Schmitt.
My fascinating conversation with composer Philippe Treuille contained the following questions and answers:
What inspired you to write this piece?
After the premiere of my Requiem Mass in January 2015, I was graciously invited in February by my friend and mentor Sarah Jones Nelson, to dine with the celebrated John Nash at Princeton, New Jersey and soon after with Alicia Nash. Both experiences were profound and moving: John’s meaningful words about the beauty of the infinite, and Alicia’s advice to vigorously pursue my career as a composer, struck me in particular. When soon thereafter they were both tragically killed, side by side, in a car crash on the NJ Turnpike, I felt more and more profoundly compelled to compose music inspired by their sensitive and beautiful minds.
Why is this piece called Live Forever?
It is a celebration of life unfolding, an elegy for loved ones who have died, and an inquiry into the mystery of what might lie beyond.The piece offers tender solace and hope in place of existential fear.
How do you approach composing?
I hear original music in my dreams every night. I have trained myself to remember the melodies and record them upon waking. I also see original works of art in my dreams, including the painting which inspired this composition. This particular piece, which I painted in 2018, features the veterans monument in Millbrook, NY’s Tribute Gardens, with the existing words on the plaque beneath the cannon replaced by the phrase ‘Live Forever.’
Is it about grief?
This piece does not dwell on grief at the passing of loved ones but rather springs forth with renewed hope that their lives are part of something larger and greater that will live forever.
Is it about the afterlife?
The second movement depicts someone at the precipice, very old, perhaps curmudgeonly and doubting the possibility that they could actually ‘live forever.”’If you listen closely you might even hear a rhythm that seems to say ‘That is impossible!’ The old person looks back at memories of Paris, the tension of romance and the failures and successes that have defined their life. The gentle music plays over the old person’s fears as if to assuage anxiety. In the third movement, a voice calls into the void… “I will find you.” As lives come and go, loved ones desire to cross paths once more. Will they ever? This piece offers hope that we may find one another beyond.
Live Forever Live Forever, celebrates the resilience of diverse people confronting challenges together.
Rejuvenation in Red, written for oboe and string quartet is really about the thorny experience of spiritual discovery. I composed it while I was traveling in Europe in the spring of 2022, when I visited England, France and Spain.
Tessellations follows the explorations of a rabbit who suddenly no longer wishes to be confined to its one little spot on an infinite tessellation of many rabbits.
Trauma is never sufficiently addressed through words alone, we need to feel the stories of our lives in order to heal them. Philippe Treuille, by telling a story of loss and redemption through music, connects directly with the internal states of the listener and guides them through a process of healing. And by adding his charming and playful artwork, he wraps his audience in a multi-sensory experience that connects the listener with their own innocence. His music elevates the spirit, it is good for the soul.