Saturday, 25 July 2009

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

" Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time."

Almost all of us listen to and enjoy some sort of music, but we do not all experience it the same or interpret what we hear in the same way. Dr. Sacks considers many of the varied ways in which people hear music. I was fascinated to learn that there really are people who do not hear music, called amusia. To them it is noise similar to the banging of pots and pans.

Musicality or musical sensibilities vary from person to person. There are people who are highly talented with their music and seem born to perform. Then there are people who can't carry a tune in a bucket. Of course most of us fall somewhere in between. This section included a discussion of perfect pitch and its impact.

Much of the information in this book is presented as case studies of various clients Dr. Sacks has met with. As a Neurologist he has provided very understandable explanations of the impact of music on the brain. He looks at blindness, amnesia, aphasia (speechlessness), Tourette's Syndrome, Parkinson's and more.

This is a very readable book. Case studies are presented in all sections and they clearly illustrate the impact of music regarding each ailment/injury. I was most interested in the the musical retention by people with severe amnesia and certain types of dementia. It was amazing to read about people who had lost so much of their contact with the world and to see them come alive and interactive with their music.

I'm not a musician or singer myself, but I do enjoy listening to a variety of musics and have tried to play several instruments, but alas, I can't carry a tune and I just don't get it when it comes to playing. I don't really have the feel for the music. Yes, I've had the lessons and understand the techniques, but its not there for me. I can sing and even stay in tune if I stand next to a strong singer, but you really don't want me to solo. Even with this pedigree, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it if you have any interest in music or in how the brain works.

Website for Dr. Oliver Sacks


(M)ary said...

I listened to this on CD. Actually, I didn't finish listening to it! I think I need to read it instead because when I listen to books on CD I am usually doing something else at the same time.This book needs focus in order to process it fully.

Heather said...

I think you are correct Mary. This book did need me to pay more attention. I really was an interesting read. It kept me thinking about some of the musical people that Iknow. I am planning to buy a copy for my sister. She is a singer and I suspect she'll really enjoy it.

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