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article imageMusicophilia: Yes, music heals, ask a neurologist who's borrowed a choir

By Paul Wallis     Jun 1, 2008 in Science
Oliver Sacks and the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church have joined forces to explore a subject they’ve both been working on: The effect of music on the brain. Any musician would have to agree, but we’re biased. Sacks sees potentials for real therapy.
Yahoo!/Associated Press:
Sacks, the best-selling author of "Awakenings" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," shared the church stage Saturday with the famed gospel choir as part of the inaugural World Science Festival, a five-day celebration of science taking place in New York this week.
"It should be an exciting and unusual event," Sacks said in an interview this week. "I will talk about the therapeutic and beneficent power of music as a physician, and then their wonderful choir will perform. ... And the audience will make what they can of it."
The Church is also talking about therapy, a spiritual variety which sounds like it has more than a few practical applications:
Abyssinian's pastor, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, said the choir is looking forward to performing with Sacks. He noted that music plays a central role in the healing power of prayer.
"What we have been studying ... is that when you pray, there's actually a physiological change in the body," he said. "Music is very much a part of this. There are certain notes that generate in the human body a kind of peacefulness."
If you like singing, that’s very true. It also improves oxygenation, and therefore circulation.
Choirs in particular have a range and depth which is particularly effective aesthetically. It’s no coincidence that choirs are full of people who love singing, and their audience of people who love listening to them.
Music is closer to real spiritual release than McReligion will ever be.
Musicophilia (Love of music) is a website with a lot of blurb about Sacks’ book, but this quote stood out:
Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson's disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer's or amnesia.
So that tune that won’t get out of your head is pretty normal. They’re right, though, about the vocal effects. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had a stroke which affected his speech centers, but he started playing again, with some help of his daughters. There was a documentary I saw, where the minute he began to sing familiar songs, his vocals, which had been slurring when he spoke, returned to Beach Boys level. It was quite unforgettable.
Sacks’ website, rather unfortunately, is more about his other work, and the Musicophilia link goes straight back to the site. I’d say promo work isn’t really his style, even if he has the time.
Guess we’ll just have to read the book…
More about Oliver sacks, Music therapy, Musicophilia