Beautifying Darkness: Q&A with Zsolt Bognár

Critically acclaimed concert pianist Zsolt Bognár, frequently featured on NPR, performed two pieces by Schubert and shared his story about how a special connection to Schubert brought him healing solace in part by beautifying darkness. For the TEDMED blog, Zsolt gave us insight into his process, his time at TEDMED and what’s next for him.

Beautifying Darkness - Concert Pianist Zsolt Bognar

Concert pianist Zsolt Bognár on the TEDMED 2014 stage. Photo: Jerod Harris for TEDMED.

What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?  

The TEDMED team contacted me and showed me instantly that this event would be about a gathering of many brilliant and inspiring minds, sharing many stories of innovation and courage. I wanted to share a story through my life and music that was very personal to me.

Why does performance/talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Lots of awareness is being raised these days about the importance of addressing mental health issues, including depression. My story concerns the way that I proactively dealt with my own depression through the inspirational story of Franz Shubert’s final year before his death at the age of 31.

What top three TEDMED 2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you, and why?

Kitra Cahana moved me to tears. She told a story of courage and finding freedom in the face of incredible adversity, and shared her story through images of striking beauty. My other favorite was Tiffany Shlain. Her multimedia presentation capturing the interaction of people and minds was stunning. Elizabeth Kenny‘s performance was dynamic and gripping.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

People from all around the world came to me telling me their love of music had been reignited, and that some even plan to restart piano lessons.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

My life has been enriched by being open about the challenges I have faced, and connecting with others about how I overcame them was a personal liberation. I hope that with my music, I can encourage others to find hope by doing the same.

What’s next for you?

I’m in Europe giving recitals around the holidays. In February, 2015, I will give a performance in Cleveland with the Verb Ballet in a set of pieces composed for the occasion by a local composer friend of mine, Philip Cucchiara. I have always loved to combine art forms. My tours in the upcoming year will take me several times to Europe. I will also continue creating episodes for my film series Living the Classical Life with many famous classical musicians from around the world. It’s a very beautiful experience and a wonderful privilege to share music.

Games and Health: Q&A with Brian Primack

At TEDMED 2014, Brian Primack, Clinician, Professor, and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Research on Health and Society at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, shed light on how principles learned from video game design can be used to create more effective health behavior change. We caught up with Brian to learn more about his work and his experience at TEDMED 2014.

How healthcare can learn from video games. Jerod Harris, TEDMED2014. Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

The video games industry is really good at getting people to perform certain tasks and to stick with them for the long haul.” Expert design including instant reward, social networks, and intermediate milestones can effectively improve patient outcomes. Photo: Jerod Harris for TEDMED.

Personally, what do you prefer: “old-school” video games, or the most recent technology? Why?

I prefer old-school video games. Part of it may be nostalgia. However, I also think that sometimes, simpler graphics and can translate into a richer imaginative experience. For example, I still sometimes play old Infocom games. Infocom created brilliant text-only interactive fiction games starting in the early 1980s.

Do you encourage your children to play video games?

My kids (ages 7 and 10) play video games, and I often play with them. Some of our favorites are logic, simulation, and/or physics games such as Civiballs, Meeblings, and Bloons Tower Defense. What I encourage even more than playing, however, is creating video games. Both of my kids can do basic programming on MIT’s Scratch platform and have created simple games of their own.

Beyond health and medicine, what other applications or fields do you see gamification having a large impact on?

Gamification may be very valuable in education. I think there is an important balance to be struck, though. I think it’s great to leverage the tools we have now to make learning more engaging. However, we also want to encourage people ultimately to learn for its own sake, not just because they are getting points or incentives. I don’t think these positions are mutually exclusive, but balance is important to think about as we develop new educational tools.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

I really appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with some past colleagues; it was also invigorating to meet people whose work I had admired from afar. I caught up with Lee Sanders, MD, MPH, Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at Stanford; he’s well-known for his work on promotion of child and family health via health literacy.

What’s next for you?

Our Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health continues to research both the positive and negative influences of media and technology on health outcomes. We develop and test interventions to support positive attributes of media and technology while also buffering their potential negative influences.