Sunday, December 11, 2011

Building The Musical Muscle


Charles Limb performs cochlear implantation, a surgery that treats hearing loss and can restore the ability to hear speech. But as a musician too, Limb thinks about what the implants lack: They don't let you fully experience music yet. (There's a hair-raising example.) At TEDMED, Limb reviews the state of the art and the way forward.

Charles Limb has two titles on his official website: Associate Professor, Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, and Faculty, Peabody Conservatory of Music. He combines his two passions to study the way the brain creates and perceives music. He's a hearing specialist and surgeon at Johns Hopkins who performs cochlear implantations on patients who have lost their hearing.And he plays sax, piano and bass.


He goes further to state, "Now the question comes to mind: Is there any hope?And yes, there is hope. Now I don't know if anybody knows who this is. This is ... does somebody know?This is Beethoven. Now why would we know what Beethoven's skull looks like? Because his grave was exhumed. And it turns out that his temporal bones were harvested when he died to try to look at the cause of his death, which is why he has molding clay and his skull is bulging out on the side there. But Beethoven composed music long after he lost his hearing. What that suggests is that, even in the case of hearing loss, the capacity for music remains. The brains remain hardwired for music."

Recently, at the Colloquy on Music in Health and Medicine at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, we heard from Lorna MacDonald, the Lois Marshall Chair of Voice Studies who reported on a Cochlear-Implant Singing Study at the Hospital for Sick Children.  In collaboration with Talar Hopyan, Dr. Blake Papsin, and Karen Gordon, Lorna MacDonald has been focusing on enhanced speech inflection through singing lessons for teenage CI-users implanted in early childhood.  It is inspiring to know that so many in the fields of medicine and music are working toward the improvement for others.

1 comment:

andrea said...

The technology and research surrounding hearing restoration is very hopeful and it is only a matter of time before science and technology make this a definite possibility for those who have suffered hearing loss.
However, there is thought that the loss of any one basic sensory function creates hypersensitivity among one's other senses. Take, for instance, Beethoven--a composer and musician before and after his loss of hearing. An analysis of his musical compositions both before and after his auditory demise reveals that not only were his compositions following this time of an equitable level to those from before, but there is discussion that his latter music is of greater complexity and musical interest. Could it be that through his hearing loss, Beethoven's brain was able to replace this with a heightened sense of mental musical imagery, allowing him to hear the music clearly in his head? Scientific evidence that reveals the auditory and motor cortex stimulation that occurs when an individual merely thinks about playing and hearing music is enough to suggest the possibility that one's hearing is never really "lost", despite input malfunctioning. Which leads to the question of ethics behind hearing restoration--especially among those who cannot make the choice? As an individual who has never suffered from hearing affliction of any sort, it is very difficult to imagine life without sound, sight, etc. However, if it is not possible to provide quality sound to those who cannot hear, period, is it worthwhile?