Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Voices beyond the sound or illusion? : Rosemary Brown

Voices beyond the sound or illusion? : Rosemary Brown

Robert Jourdain’s book, Music, the brain, and Ecstasy explains human brain’s musical perceptual and cognitive abilities by classifying subjects into ten categories.(From sound to tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding and ecstasy.) Jordain gives rich examples based on concrete evidences from scientific experiments to support his idea. It was fascinating to read a book which analyses music with a neuroscience perspective. However, in the chapter of composition, there is an odd example compare to others. The story of Rosemary Brown, believed as a medium who did many dictations of dead composers’ compositions. In this essay, I will explore the arguments regarding the musical inspiration and illusions.

Rosemary Brown was an English composer and medium who claimed to have communicated with some of the world’s greatest composers who passed away. (Hinson 2013, 186) Furthermore, she claimed that they dictated to her their new compositions on the piano. She stated that each composer had his own way of dictating music to her. Franz Liszt (1811-86) dictated to her by moving directly her hands and Franz Schubert (1797-1828) dictated to her by singing and so on. (Stollznow 2014, 112) Rosemary Brown published three books that explain her supernatural experience : Unfinished Symphonies: Voices from the Beyond , (William Morrow, 1971), Immortals at My Elbow (Bachman & Turner, 1974) and  Look Beyond Today (Bantam Press, 1986) She even made a recording, The Rosemary Brown Piano Album which consists of dead composers’ new composition and she appeared at the TV shows to demonstrate her compositions.

Surprisingly, there are many music experts put confidence in her supernatural experience. For instance, pianist Hephzibah Menuhin, sister of Yehudi Menuhin, said: "I look at these manuscripts with immense respect. Each piece is distinctly in the composer's style." (Stemman 1975, 123) and it is told that conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein was impressed by listening to Chopin’s impromptu dictated to her. (Melrose 2005). Richard Rodney Bennett, a famous film music composer and jazz pianist, stated that it would not be possible to compose and play such complex music without having a strong musical background. (Fanthorpe 2000, 127) Some people even supported her financially in order that she could concentrate on transcribing music, writing books explaining her experiences, giving public performances and interviews. (Brown, 2012, 36)People who believe in the existence of the “Arkashic Records” are not surprised by this kind of story, but how can we explain this case with concrete evidences?

There are also musicians and psychologists against Rosemary Brown’s claim. (It is not surprising that there are more cons than pros for this case.) Some musicologists and psychologists criticize lack of musicality of her compositions, but musicologist Andrew Neher explains Rosemary Brown’s supernatural experience in a different perspective. In his book, Paranormal and Transcendental Experience: A Psychological Examination, Neher states that Rosemary Brown’s ability of communication with sprits might be a reflection of her unconsciousness. Jourdain says that she was educated in a non-musical family (Jourdain, 1997, 155-156) but paranormal investigator Harry Edwards says Brown stated later that she was born in a musical family and trained as a skilled pianist. Neher points out that Rosemary spent her childhood listening her mother’s piano playing and she also took piano lessons and it is possible that this experience enabled her to produce music in an altered states of conscious. (Neher, 1990, 208)

Rosemary Brown’s story was happened in 1970 and attracted public attention. Few music-related professionals were interested in this phenomenon, but musicologists’ researches were only able to analyze her works’ musical style and structure. Psychologists tried to explain her case with psychological perspectives, but there is no concrete evidence for both cons and pros since the cognitive neuroscience field – which can explain brain’s function with data- has blossomed since 1990’s. Nevertheless, the opinions about Rosemary Brown’s case can be categorized into two ways; possibility of contacting other spirits and possibility of discovering unconsciousness of herself.

             In conclusion, I believe researches in  neuroscience perspectives will enable us to discover the part of brain which might store discrete memories related to Rosemary Brown’s case. Jourdain just presents her anecdotes as an intro for the chapter 5.However, the book was written in 1997 and the development of science afterward might be able to decode such supernatural phenomenon. Especially, using the equipment such as electroencephalography” (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging”(fMRI) will enhance to find concrete evidences to decode the mysterious voices beyond the sound.




Brown, Matthew. Debussy redux: the impact of his music on popular culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland's book of spirit communications. 2nd ed. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2004.

Fanthorpe, R. Lionel, and P. A. Fanthorpe. Death the final mystery. Toronto: Dundurn Group, 2000.

Hinson, Maurice, and Wesley Roberts. Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire, Fourth Edition. 4th ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

Jourdain, Robert. Music, the brain, and ecstasy: how music captures our imagination. New York: W. Morrow, 1997.

Neher, Andrew. Paranormal and transcendental experience: a psychological examination. 2nd ed. New York: Dover, 19901980.

Stemman, Roy. The supernatural. New York: Danbury Press, 19751976.

Stollznow, Karen. Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Willin, Melvyn J.. Music, witchcraft and the paranormal. Ely: Melrose, 2005.


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