I’ve been taking my time reading Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain (2007). As many of my readers know I am seeking to somehow integrate education and music. I’ve also discussed neuropsychologist and teacher, Judy Willis’ learning strategies developed through her initial understanding of how the brain works. With that in mind, Sacks’ book sounded like a necessary read.
Instead of reading from beginning to end, I chose select chapters that most interested me. And, in this second of a 4-part series, I will be sharing my thoughts on Sacks’ interest in music imagery.
Sacks quotes Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, writing “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”. He says once we become intimately familiar with a song, we are able to see, feel, and hear it. Scientific studies have proven that an imagined song activates the same auditory nerves as heard music. And finally, inconclusive studies have shown that the same auditory nerves are active even when words or accompaniment are omitted, leaving unnecessary pauses in the song: this only occurred when the song was familiar to the participant.
I inadvertently stumbled upon this chapter as it directly proceeded the chapters on epilepsy, but I can attest to the truthfulness of the first statements on music imagery. I often think of songs I have sung or heard and immediately think of when or where I was when I last heard/sung the song. Just as the author writes, in my mind, I am transported to that place and time. I’ll remember what was said before, during or after the song. I’ll remember the choreography if any was performed. Sometimes I’ll even remember what I was wearing or what the artist was wearing. It may sound odd, but with my love of almost every genre, there’s also music videos to watch, songs I listen to repeatedly, and concerts to attend. As to the auditory studies, I’m not surprised that both heard and imagined music activate the same auditory nerves. What did surprise me was alternating heard an imagined music of a familiar affects our brains differently than the same process of unfamiliar music. I’m not sure if this is something I would want to pursue, but still it is interesting.