What Is It About Music?

I must admit to another emotional response that confirms my status as an impending geezer: I get a little irritated at all the people who move through life with earbuds blocking out the world in which they exist, albeit perhaps reluctantly. Although I enjoy music, I’ve never felt compelled to use it in this way, nor have I felt that I could not possibly function without the company of my favorite songs.

Nevertheless, there is something magical about music, and perhaps these earbud-packing hordes are smarter than they look. The science of music is fascinating, and suggests that music is more fundamental to the human experience than even language. Neuroscientific studies show that there is no specific “music center” in the brain; instead, multiple areas of the brain respond together, producing a “synesthesia” similar to what is seen in infantile brains unable to differentiate among varying sensory inputs. Everyone, even those who consider themselves tone deaf, seems to be able to recognize and differentiate musical pitches, and can recognize songs that have been transposed into very different keys.  All very mysterious and interesting.

On October 7, I will be in Iowa City, at The Examined Life Conference, speaking and performing some songs that I’ve written.  My topic is how the use of poetry and music can make medical humanities presentations more memorable and transformative for the audience. By stimulating memory and emotion and the primal response to rhythm and rhyme, a speaker can better get his message across. Not sure exactly how it works, but I hope those in the crowd take their earbuds off, at least for a little while.

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