Musicophilia: Tales of Music & the Brain, Part 3

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 third of a 4-part series, I will be sharing my reflections on what I would consider my favorite part of the book.

Music, Emotion, and Identity
I think I gained a greater understanding of the integration of educational psychology with the last few chapters of Sacks’ book.

Duality: First, Sacks explains music’s dual affect, writing, “We may be moved to the depths even as we appreciate the formal structure of a composition”. It can be as an equilibrium or one side may be suppressed to any extent voluntarily or involuntarily.

For me, this is the first time I had made this realization, but then again I have never studied music. I probably should have paid more attention in my undergrad music class! I have an emotional attachment to music, but the intellectual attachment is only now developing.

It has been said that hallucinogens can remove inhibitions and intensify senses and emotions. Operating from that assumption, Sacks describes a study where skilled musicians participated by first taking mescaline, then listening music, and finally discussing how (if any) that duality of appreciation had changed. Many of the participants lost his ability to intellectually appreciate the music, but their emotional attention to the music was enhanced.

Again coming from the position of not having the academic knowledge of music, that type of study wouldn’t work for me, and its opposite would make me frustrated: I would have no previous knowledge to rely upon, and given time I may develop an aversion to music.
This reflection reminds me of Performance Professionals and their pursuit to educate teachers, parents, and students that the approach to learning must include the duality of emotion (temperament) and intellectualism (learning style). Currently teachers choose to ignore the duality of learning or to focus on only one element. It is no wonder why students with no prior training struggle in a classroom when the equilibrium of emotion and intellectualism is not fully appreciated. This analogy deserves further consideration.

Depression and Music: Music gives us another proof of the individuality of man in that each of us approach music differently.
Speaking specifically of the depressed, Sacks writes that an individual will be either affected or not affected by music. Similar to his discussion on epilepsy, music will either become more of a pleasure or an aversion to someone.

I have a couple thoughts on his analysis. First is it the depression or the treatment of that depression that determines the music’s affect? I know that depression can indicate a decreased level of the chemical serotonin. So I question at which level of serotonin suppression does music stop being a pleasure and begin to be apathy and then aversion? Does serotonin, like mescaline, affect the dual appreciation of music?

I have struggled with depression for more than 10 years. There have been times that I became angry when music would affect others so emotionally, but not me. There are other times where music has acted as medicine, bringing glimpses of hope into my otherwise dull and hopeless world. I have been on and off of Paxil, depending on the breadth of my depression, so medication doesn’t appear to be a factor. It makes me wonder if it’s not nature, i.e., biological hormones, but nurture, i.e., circumstances, which determines how music will affect a depressed individual.

After reading through Sacks’ book, one thing has become apparent: if I want to move forward in music journalism, I need to take some kind of music appreciation classes. I must fully embrace the duality of music, if I desire to be the best I can at understanding music both emotionally and intellectually.

This book has also caused me to think more about the link between music and depression. My questions need answers, and it can be as simple as reading another book or may require a meta-search through multiple resources to fully understand the answers I seek!


About debhalasz

I am a free-lance writer, skilled in writing press-releases, profiles, web copy, articles, and album reviews. I also am a skilled researcher in all areas. I have a MS degree in Educational Pscyhology and am currently in the dissertation phase of my PhD program. My passions are second language learning, learning strategies, music, musicology, neuroscience, and neuroeducation. I am a fan of all genres of music and love learning more about both indie and major-labeled artists as well as the behind-the-scenes people who make them look so good! View all posts by debhalasz

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