INCREASED libido, better endurance, improvements in mood and brain function are just some of the positive effects that listening to music is supposed to deliver.

There are many more, yet much is still unknown about how music affects the human mind and body even though the subject has been explored since the time of the ancient Greeks when Plato suggested using music to treat anxiety.

This week the topic will be investigated further by the increasingly innovative Scottish Ensemble.

Currently working with Maggie’s Cancer Charity on how music can be used as part of a mindfulness programme, they will now embark on a series of events called Pause to be staged in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Pause will blend live musical performance with talks from speakers including Richard Holloway, former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

“It is a bit of a departure for Scottish Ensemble,” said violinist Daniel Pioro, who curated the programme.

“It is very new in terms of the involvement of scientific speakers but Pause is not a lecture with music as the concerts will be around 70 per cent playing and 30 per cent talking.”

He added: “Doing the programming has already altered the way I listen – it is almost as if my perceptions have been sharpened and I think the effect on the audience will be similar.”


Pioro points out that we rarely stop to focus on the extraordinary sounds around us every day.

“This is largely one of the reasons we are doing this,” he said. “Ensemble is trying to push the boundaries of feeling and we are trying to engage with audiences in a way that runs the risk of stepping out of our comfort zone.

“We are challenging audiences to come with us to experience something different.

“Music will still be the most important part of these events but we are looking at the opportunity to explore the effects that music has on the mind and body.

“We are responsible for the choices we make when we listen to music and when we look at that we will start to see patterns of why we react to certain types of music.

Pioro added: “It is about recognising why certain bits of music make you happy or not because only then can you have a real say on the effects on your body and mind.

“Mindfulness is a word that is bandied around a lot but it just means becoming aware of what is going on.”


During the sessions at Maggie’s, the players are encouraging patients to focus fully on the music.

“Sound can have a very positive effect on the state of our mind and bodies,” said Pioro.

“When we are playing at Maggie’s we are asking people to listen to the sounds they may not have been aware of before such as a violinist barely touching a string or long drawn out strokes that make your heart rate go slower and slower.

“We are encouraging people to recognise the effects of music on their bodies and how it can affect them adversely or beneficially.”

At the Pause events this week, the Ensemble will begin by playing music that the audiences will probably recognise.

This will then fragment and neuroscientist Dr Guido Orgs will explore the feeling of unsettledness this creates before further outlining the effects of music.

“We will then go onto topic of sacred music – music that made us feel connected to the divine,” said Pioro. “Where does that feeling come from and why is it that when music is played a certain way we are almost lulled into a kind of tantric state?”


Next will be John Cage’s controversial 4′33″ (pronounced “Four minutes, thirty three seconds”) which is composed of three “movements” even though the performers are instructed not to play their instruments for the entire duration of the piece.

It consists of the sounds of the environment surrounding the listeners while the piece is “performed” and is influenced by the Zen Buddhism that Cage studied.

Conceived around 1947-48, it reached number 21 in the UK singles chart in 2010 when a Facebook page encouraged people to buy a version of it to keep the winner of the seventh series of X Factor from being the Christmas number one.

It will be the first time the Scottish Ensemble has performed it and Pioro said it could be an “uncomfortable” experience for the players who will stand on stage with their instruments throughout.

However, he added: “I think it will be very powerful to see 13 people on stage ostensibly not doing anything other than listening to the sounds in the room.”

The Cage “music” will be preceded by a very aggressive fast piece for violin by Philip Glass.

In both pieces, the audience will be asked to note the effects on their bodies – whether they are getting an adrenalin rush, or a feeling of calm or discomfort as they listen.

“Sound has a very strong effect on the human body,” said Pioro.


At the end of the event, the focus will be on the pleasure of listening.

“We will almost moving away from the science and just listening to beautiful music,” explained Pioro.

“We often focus on the negative emotions and there is this idea about the tortured artist but so much art comes from positive feelings and happiness even though happiness is often thought of as the least important thing from the creative point of view.

“It is very important however and I want people to go away with smiles on their faces.”

He added: “The range of emotions that we go through when hearing certain noises, snippets of music or recognised sounds is immense, and without us even realising it, or being aware it is happening – it colours how we feel in the moment, and in the rest of our day.?The hope is that Pause will offer a chance for people to gather, sit in a shared space, and enjoy this phenomenon, consciously, freely, and unburdened by the usual explanations and expectations we attach to listening to music.”


For details of the concerts go to