Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Via 'Musicophilia', Sacks Studies Music and the Brain

NPR - All Things Considered, Oct. 21, 2007
An 8 minute segment broadcast on National Public Radio

Excerpt: 'Musicolphilia' - Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia - by Oliver Sacks


In the segment from the NPR's All Things Considered program, interviewer Andrea Seabrook talks with neurologist and author Oliver Sacks about his work exploring the relationship between the brain and music. Sacks writes in his book 'Musicophilia' about the stories of some of his patients. One of his first books, 'Awakenings', written in the 1970s, deals with patients who suffered from sleeping sickness. He says he is constantly amazed by the human ability to move in syncronicity to music. He recounts being at a Gratefull Dead concert and marvelling at the thousands of people all moving together in unison. Music's ability to stir up various moods and emotions interest him as does the human ability to hear music in our heads. Sacks mentions Gottfried Schlaug's research at Harvard University in imaging the brains of musicians. He says that, unlike many other professions, a musician's brain can be recognized as such just by looking at the brain patterns.

Sacks talks about his work with patients with Tourette's Syndrome and how their involuntary compulsive movements can be calmed through music therapy. He cites the example of a drum circle in New York and how 30 people's bodies can be jerking spasmodically then, after following the lead drummer, they fall into syncronicity and are no longer subject to sudden jerky movements. He fondly remembers when he first started working in New York City in the 1960s, seeing a group of 80 Parkinson's patients who had been frozen, unable to move, suddenly upon hearing music becoming 'unlocked' for a while.

In the excerpt from 'Musicophilia' entitled 'Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia', Sacks tells the story of an orthopedic surgeon who, having been hit by lightening, suddenly became obsessively interested in piano music and composition. The man who formerly had little to no interest in music, was now engrossed heart and mind in the performance of and love for music.


Having listened to Oliver Sacks interviewed and having read this excerpt from his book, I am inspired to read more of his writing. His writing seems accessible to this unscientific mind and while I have found the many of the subjects connected to the study of Music and the Brain very interesting. It has been difficult for me to process some of the ideas because of the technical language used. I suspect I would not be intimidated by and would enjoy reading more of what Sacks has written.

The changes in behavior as exhibited by the doctor whose brain became keenly interested in music subsequent to his accident, sound as if they almost bordered on the obsessive. As one who lives with a partner who is also deeply engrossed in a hobby, I was not hugely surprised to note that the marriage did not survive the newfound musical passion!

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