When funding for the arts is on the cutting block, I inevitably find myself thinking, “What are they missing?”

There are studies from years ago showing the impact of music on enhancing math ability. Other studies have shown that both music and art are linked with improvements in stress, memory, resilience, mood regulation and mental health, trauma reduction, and focus.

Dance increases endorphins in the brain, tunes the body—which makes all of the functions work more efficiently—and, let’s face it: we just feel more alive when we’re on the move!

I was reminded of music’s power to be transformational in my own life during the concert on New Year’s Eve 2022 when the SLO Symphony was joined by the Canadian-based symphonic rock group Jeans ‘n Classics at the SLO Performing Arts Center.

Every day is increasingly beautiful, with so much due to those few hours steeped in a music-inspired epiphany.”

Before I share this epiphany, I want to thank Joan Gellert Sargen for including me in the group of friends she invited to the concert that night. It was life changing. I also want to thank the talented and generous musicians I’ve worked with in our local hospices. Each of you has touched my heart, especially in the weeks before my husband Tony died and in the year or so after. I honor your beautiful gift to the dying in our community, and to all of us left behind.

To the students at Cal Poly who volunteer to teach other students and community members how to dance, you make a difference too. The smiles and camaraderie I witnessed in the two quarters I joined them to learn salsa showed how beneficial dance can be on mood for young and old alike.

I also want to honor the teachers, especially in junior colleges and adult schools, who stay after school to teach art, journaling, music, and so much more. I personally benefited from a ceramics studio during the time my husband was declining, and am hoping that Lucia Mar and other school districts recognize the tremendous value of these offerings beyond K-12.

Last but not least, thank you to Cal Poly for offering so many quality performances at your venues. You enrich our lives all year long.

Now, a peek at the impact one night of music can make. Five days after the New Year’s Eve performance, I sent the following email to musician David Blamires, one of the lead singers in Jeans ‘n Classics.

Thank you! I was at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo on New Year’s Eve for a concert that turned into an epiphany.

A little background first, which will sound sad. Don’t get distracted by the story, as all is well.

After the death of my son Ian, an enchanting toddler who died of meningitis in ‘86, I eventually found my way back to joy, subsequently becoming a grief counselor in ‘92. Meanwhile I had fallen in love and married. Tony was significantly older than me but energetic and thoroughly engaged in life. We had a wonderful relationship all the way to his death, almost three years ago, following a number of illnesses including Alzheimer’s.

While I have grieved him well, circumstances have led to some heavy times this year, including the death of a beloved cat. By New Year’s Eve I found myself feeling profoundly weary . . . until the concert began. It was the right music, at the right time, presented the right way to spark an epiphany.

I remembered myself . . .  lighter, freer, spirit soaring, and fully alive before the caregiving began, before the endless things to deal with following Tony’s death, before finding myself the only sentient being at home (with apologies to the occasional fly).

I love our symphony. I loved the music so well interpreted by Jeans ‘n Classics. The catalyst for my epiphany, however, was you. Your mastery of the music and powerful delivery had me dancing in my seat and belting out an unapologetic “YES!” to a fully engaged life again.

Never doubt that you reach deep into the very essence of those of us privileged to hear your music. I have already started making the changes that will further enhance and expand the reach of my already valued work with others who have suffered profound loss. On their behalf, and on my own . . . thank you.

David answered me graciously and with thanks of his own within 24 hours.

Those of you who can encourage the inclusion of diverse arts in our communities, please know that . . . you are making an often profound difference . . .”

I didn’t forget or dismiss that epiphany. Having worked on my physical, psychological, and emotional health for many years already, I delved into a deeper exploration of how to live life more consciously and have been successful in raising my awareness level.

Since New Year’s Eve I have cut back on hospice work and have begun to write, to craft grief and growth workshops that I will be offering on Zoom, and to take the time to breathe, putter at home, and play.

It’s been wonderful to experience a life filled with even more gratitude and bliss as I’ve assumed full responsibility for my experience of life. Every day is increasingly beautiful, with so much due to those few hours steeped in a music-inspired epiphany.

Those of you who can encourage the inclusion of diverse arts in our communities, please know that while each story may not come to your attention, you are making an often profound difference each time you say “YES!”

Many thanks to family, friends, and mentors who have been supportive throughout my life. My current joy wouldn’t have been possible without you.

:: Ingrid Pires