Performing Arts as a Bonding Agent: Recovering from Social Trauma Through In-Person Performances

Voces 8 in The Great Hall



Beginning with Hippocrates, who first recognized the significance of the brain as the source of epilepsy, scientists have sought to aid the brain’s recovery from severe trauma. Diagnostic advances led them to begin searching for ways to restore broken connections between neurons. In 2018, a team led by Japanese Neuroscientist Takuya Takahashi had a major breakthrough in their discovery of edonerpic maleate.  This tiny compound acts as a bonding agent and appears to aid in the recovery of those connections. You can geek out about it here, if you are so inclined.

Now imagine if the whole world were a human brain, and we, her citizens were her neurons. Imagine further that some major trauma – like, say…oh I don’t know…a major pandemic – disconnected those neurons. Without some miraculous cure, the prognosis for a full recovery would be pretty grim. Yeah, so that’s us – 7.8 billion detached neurons in need of a bonding agent. What will be our miracle cure? What will aid in our reconnection with each other? As a doctor myself*, I suspect live in-person performing arts is one of the most promising cures we have. Yes, a regimen of theatre, concerts, and dance might just be the edonerpic maleate we need.

The Virtual Concert as a Cultural Band-Aid®

My family and I have been immensely grateful for the life-support that countless arts organizations provided during the shutdown. Live-streamed and pre-recorded performances made isolation slightly more tolerable. We watched exponentially more opera in one year than the rest of our collective years thanks to Metropolitan Opera’s free streaming service.  The Trust’s Great Hall hosted some lovely live-streamed performances by the Lancaster Symphony and others. I appeared in a few virtual concerts myself. You can watch one that was filmed in our living room here.  I even directed the LBC Chorale in a virtual choir video. Once a clever novelty, this Brady-Bunch-style format became the bane of choir directors the world over in 2020.

The point is, thousands of arts organizations went to extraordinary lengths to deliver intensive care for our souls. They should be commended and celebrated for their creativity. However, no one remains in the ICU forever. The patient will eventually begin to recover – hopefully.

The Binge-watching Blahs

As restrictions ease, and the opportunities for gathering increase, entering into live in-person performing arts will be key to our recovery. I am concerned, however, that our universal proclivity toward binge-watching Netflix might keep us stuck in the ICU.  Entertainment tends to distract (or numb) us from our feelings. Conversely, the arts are meant to help us engage them in deep and meaningful ways. While it has fallen out of fashion (unless you read Jane Austen), the word “diversion” was once a popular, and perhaps a more honest, synonym for “entertainment.” At the height of the pandemic, we all needed diversions. Conviva reported that streaming viewership jumped 44% in 2020! But, diversions are not meant to last forever.  Feelings of emptiness, meaningless, and ultimately despair begin to take hold when the human soul is diverted too long. A 2017 study found a strong correlation between screen-time and depression.

Better than Yoga

Attending a live concert, however, boosts your mental and emotional well-being by as much as 21% – that’s 11% higher than a yoga session! In fact a 2018 study links “high levels of wellbeing with a lifespan increase of nine years pointing to a direct link between gig-going and longevity.” The keys to this boost in mental health and longevity is two-fold:

  1. In-person attendance – listening to the same music at home had minimal long-term affects
  2. Frequency – the study recommends attending a concert at least “once a fortnight” (that’s two weeks to you and me)

Thankfully, for those of us who live near an arts hub like Lancaster City, getting our fill of live, in-person performing arts once a fortnight is as easy as spotting an Amish buggy on New Holland Pike. Our region has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the arts! To that end, we are launching a brand new subscription series that allows you to take in Arts and Culture at both The Trust Performing Arts Center, as well as our on-campus venue the Good Shepherd Chapel. Click here or email us at to choose your subscription series today, and let’s start creating some cultural edonerpic maleate together this season.

* disclaimer, I have a doctorate in music – not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent anything other than perhaps an unresolved leading tone