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From Our Community

Music and Mindfulness: Find Your Zen

Attendees arriving at the April 2022 Music & Mindfulness event at Orchestra Hall.
Attendees arriving at the April 2022 Music & Mindfulness event at Orchestra Hall.

By guest blogger Mandy Meisner

We’ve all got a lot on our minds these days. A few things that have mine in constant motion are parenthood, work and relationships—not to mention emerging from a public health crisis that has affected every aspect of our society. It feels like the last two years have been an ever-changing adaptation of learning a “new normal.” Even now, I wonder if this reprieve in our pandemic is (finally) the place where we can start to build anew, or only a mirage of false security.

Even before COVID, I had challenges with finding my Zen because I have always equated having a busy mind and lifestyle with being productive. And “working hard” is a Midwestern virtue where we sometimes seem to compete for who can do the most. Throw in the fact that my profession (politics) rewards those who can stay one step ahead, favoring keen strategy over calm introspection, and I am trained to be more anxious than mindful.

When I was given the opportunity to experience one of the Minnesota Orchestra’s new Music and Mindfulness sessions in early April, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something.

The event was held in the Orchestra Hall auditorium, but the setup was far from typical: much of the audience is seated in rows of chairs on the stage itself, along with only two Minnesota Orchestra string musicians and a mindfulness instructor. The energy is subdued, the mood enhanced by the somber grey sky and light drizzle on the way in. Everyone is casually dressed, slightly wind-blown and soggy.

The Music and Mindfulness series is a collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, and it’s quickly apparent this will be a different experience as the instructor, Mariann Johnson, breaks classical protocol by encouraging us all to clap in between the musical movements. She then talks about some of the aspects of mindfulness: to be fully present without judgement about emotion or circumstance. We go through a simple exercise in meditation to quiet our minds, but thoughts creep in. Parenthood. Work. Relationships.

I cannot find my Zen.

She talks about how music, particularly classical music, affects us. It soothes our souls; we often feel deep gratitude and enjoyment from music. Listening to it can help us recharge and be emotionally resilient.

Violinist Emily Switzer and cellist Esther Seitz performing chamber music at the April 2022 Music & Mindfulness; at left is instructor Mariann Johnson.
Violinist Emily Switzer and cellist Esther Seitz performing chamber music at the April 2022 Music & Mindfulness; at left is instructor Mariann Johnson.

When the music starts, performed by violinist Emily Switzer and cellist Esther Seitz, I immediately feel the physical shift in my body. The customary grand ocean of sound from a full orchestra is replaced by the intimate voices of a violin and cello. They play and then talk in between the pieces, sharing their musical history and various techniques they use to ward off stage freight.

And the music? The music is a lovely collection of places from composers whose names aren’t well-known to most: Reinhold Glière, Franz Anton Hoffmeister and Eugène Ysaÿe. We start in a bright cheery spot of sunlight, take a stroll under a canopy of lush trees in the summer heat. Then go into shadow of the cellos dark and melancholy lines, feeling the angst and a brooding pull before it delivers us in sweet phrases of resolution. Somehow, we manage to end where we began—in a dazzling patch of sun.

When I look around, our faces are smooth with calm, none of us wearing a crease of anxiety. We file out in boots and scarves, light sweaters and ponytails. And while of course I can’t say for sure, I believe we have mastered a moment of mindfulness, all of us aware of what we have always known in our gut. That music has the ability to help us connect with ourselves, with one another and experience sheer beauty.

Being Zen never felt so good.

The Minnesota Orchestra presents its next Music & Mindfulness event on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at 7 p.m., at Orchestra Hall, with instructor Mariann Johnson and music performed by Associate Principal Flute Greg Milliren; tickets and information are available. The mindfulness series will return in the upcoming 2022-23 season with events on March 16, April 13 and May 11, 2023. 

Mandy Meisner believes in the power of stories and that we all have important ones to tell. She has been guest blogging for the Minnesota Orchestra since 2016, is a regular blogger on Fridley Patch, and is nationally published on several different syndicates. A graduate from the Perpich Center for Arts Education, she considers being a guest blogger for the Minnesota Orchestra a dream gig! This would be followed by a close second to blogging about good food and wine.

By day Mandy is a local politician and serves as an Anoka County Commissioner. She is also a cast member of the reality TV series Miss INNdependent airing on KSTP Channel 5, and is one of nine women co-owners of The Guest House on Lake Minnetonka. She lives in the Twin Cities.

Mandy Meisner
Mandy Meisner