PBS show shines light on BSO's OrchKids

Baltimore figures substantially in "Arts and the Mind," a two-hour documentary airing on PBS stations around the country.

There is a good amount of airtime for OrchKids, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's ambitious music education program launched by music director Marin Alsop and now offered in four inner-city schools.


Also getting attention is Dr. Charles Limb, the surgeon and neuroscientist (not to mention jazz sax player) at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His studies into the creative process include putting a hip-hop performer under a brain scanner.

The program, with footage of diverse activities from Boston to Los Angeles, sets out to prove the need for the arts in our lives, and the benefits they can generate at any age. Talking points of every state arts council and philanthropic organization get a workout here.


With "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow serving as a pleasant, if dry, guide, the show does get a little heavy on cliches at times ("Art gives meaning to our lives"). Some of the arguments are unavoidably undercut by talk of "anecdotal evidence" and "observational data."

And it's deflating to hear that there is no evidence to support the popularly held notion that children studying music develop better math skills. But that doesn't mean there isn't a connection, says Ellen Winner, chair of the department of psychology at Boston College — just the sort of optimistic outlook this program dispenses from start to finish.

And why not? It's really hard to argue with it, especially when seeing the beauty and sensing the promise in shots of teens in L.A. reciting poetry with startling fervor, or seniors in a D.C. choir rehearsing for a concert, or excited OrchKids students heading onstage at Meyerhoff Hall to perform with the BSO.

Alsop and OrchKids director Dan Trahey drive home the point that music helps focus young lives in many ways.

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As previously documented on a "60 Minutes" broadcast, there's something magical about the children in Baltimore's underserved, undernourished neighborhoods clutching the instruments they have chosen to play, staying after school to practice.

The show offers plenty of talking heads — an archaeologist, a psychologist, several other -ists — to explain and demonstrate how humans have always been artistic, how the brains of young and old alike can be stimulated by creative activity. Actor Tim Robbins and trumpeter Herb Alpert also are on hand to voice their conviction in the life-enhancing power of the arts.

Segments in the show depicting the way the arts help to engage wounded Iraq war veterans or people with Alzheimer's prove especially affecting.

There may be a lot of preaching to the choir in "Arts and the Mind" — school board officials prone to slice arts programs at the drop of a football probably won't tune in — but that should only make the choir sing out all the more vibrantly.



"Arts and the Mind" will be shown at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, on WMPT-Channel 22, and 3 p.m. Sept. 23 on WETA-Channel 26.