Sam Di Cesare, an investment advisor with TD Waterhouse Private Invetment Advice in Toronto, doesn’t get his best ideas in the shower. Instead, flashes of insight come to him while in his music studio, when he is leaning back in his favourite chair, focused on nothing but blowing into his trumpet.

“Music helps me think,” says Di Cesare, who plays the trumpet for at least an hour daily. “Right now, a lot of people are fearful about the markets. But my mind isn’t fearful when I’m playing; it’s clear.”

Di Cesare is one of many advisors and financial services industry professionals who can attest to the power of music. And the many professionals who share Di Cesare’s passion list a long array of benefits to the activity — from strengthening social connections and boosting confidence to reducing stress and creating life balance. But perhaps most telling of all, the experts now tell us that playing an instrument has benefits for the brain and mental health. Playing music can enhance memory and even prevent memory loss in old age.

In fact, says Lola Cuddy, a professor in the department of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the more involved a person is with music, the more likely his or her memory will remain strong. “In later life,” she says, “you are going to get a great deal of enjoyment and relaxation from music.”

For Petr Janata, associate professor in the University of California’s department of psychology and the Center for Mind and Brain in Davis, Calif., it is the social interaction that exemplifies the benefits of playing a musical instrument. “Most people who play an instrument,” he says, “end up playing with other people. Playing with other people is probably why we pick up an instrument to begin with.”

For more advanced musicians, Janata explains, playing in a band or ensemble, as Di Cesare does, involves a kind of interaction no other social activity can match, including team sports.

“Playing music in a group is all about figuring out how you can blend with everyone involved,” he says, “whereas with team sports, you are trying to find a groove with the other people on your team. But it is focused on competition, which is quite different.”

Music’s blending process is certainly a motivator for Di Cesare. Every Tuesday night for the past two years, Di Cesare has played with a five-person ensemble at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. The group is led by Stanley Rosenzweig, former principal trumpet for the National Ballet of Canada’s orchestra.

“It has been very inspiring to meet people who work in the arts full-time,” says Di Cesare, who has played with people whose jobs range from Hollywood film editor to professional musician. “In playing with people, I’ve learned to think on their wavelength and adjust.”

The strength of the connection among musicians during a performance, rehearsal or jam session, adds Janata, can depend on the magnitude of the music. “If, as a group, you can pull off a really big piece,” he says, “it’s a huge high.”

But the interactive power of music doesn’t stop there. For listeners, music can be an isolating experience or social experience, depending on the circumstances. “At a concert, each person’s engagement with the music is an individual experience,” says Janata. “However, if you’re at a dance club, where there’s some explicit movement coupled with the beat, then music plays a powerful role in connecting those individuals.”

The social benefit, however, is just one aspect of a passion for music; there are others. For example, performing onstage can boost your confidence in ways that help you deal with potentially stressful day-to-day business situations, such as client meetings.

“Onstage, you get butterflies in your stomach,” Di Cesare says. “I try to take that feeling with me to pump up my energy level during big [client] meetings. Also, when I feel stressed by the markets, I try to calm my nerves the way I handle them onstage, by using deep breathing.”

Musical involvement can definitely provide an outlet to reduce stress, says Jason Roth, a psychologist with Roth Associates in Psychology Counselling Services in Halifax: “Music serves as an escape from the pressures that advisors deal with in their day jobs.”

@page_break@Whether its banging on a drum or strumming a guitar, playing an instrument allows you to forget workplace problems, because playing music employs a different part of the brain than that being used for solving problems at the office. For example, a typical workday for an advisor may involve using the analytical part of the brain to analyze and evaluate investment products. But when you are playing an instrument, you are focused not so much on what Roth calls the “nitty gritty” — concrete realities of issues such as investment returns, tax efficiency and RRIF withdrawals — but on the sounds you’re producing.

“The more you engage in escapes, the more you create a balanced life,” Roth says. “And the balanced, stable and grounded advisor will be better at connecting and forging relationships with clients.”

Perhaps most important, music is fun. But, Roth warns, taking the music too seriously can have an effect opposite to that desired. If your expectations or demands of yourself are too high, not meeting those expectations could lead to frustration.

“We need to approach the playing of an instrument expecting we will make noise and, hopefully, music — and not for the creation of a fine concert,” Roth says, “or else it could be another source of stress or disappointment.”

Fun, whether we get it from music or other activities, is a necessity in our lives, according to Roth.

“It’s like food,” he says. “If we don’t feed ourselves, our bodies begin to digest themselves and we die.”

Roth believes the need to participate in satisfying leisure activities is greater now than it has ever been, with the faltering economy is putting pressure on everyone.

“Advisors may be carrying an enormous amount of stress within them,” he says, “and, therefore, it becomes imperative we flush it out.”

So, in the short term, playing music can relieve stress and create a sense of balance. But, in the long term, it also helps preserve memory.

Although a failing memory is a common symptom of aging, says Cuddy, older people do as well as young people — if not better — at remembering the tunes of yesteryear.

“As you get older, even by healthy aging, your cognitive facilities tend to slow down,” she says. “It’s a little bit more difficult to learn new music — but the old music memories are there.”

When studying patients with dementia — a disease that causes a loss of brain function, particularly memory — Cuddy’s research has found that musical memories remain intact.

“Music is so multi-dimensional, with its harmonies and melodies, that it gets distributed throughout the brain,” she says. “Probably what happens is that many paths or networks are lit up with a musical stimulus. But we don’t know exactly what happens.”

What Cuddy does know is that the more involved a person is with music, the more likely their memories will remain strong.

For Di Cesare, 34, memory loss is the least of his worries at this time in his life. For now, he says, he’ll just keep playing.

“My ultimate goal is to perform in Toronto clubs in my own jazz band,” he says. “Working toward this reminds me there are other things in life besides money. Music is a skill that nobody, especially the markets, can ever take away from you.” IE