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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,…
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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Oliver Sacks (Author)

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4,4981001,783 (3.65)158
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does--humans are a musical species. Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. Here, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and Oliver Sacks tells us why.--From publisher description.… (more)
Member:revmattmonroe
Title:Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition
Authors:Oliver Sacks (Author)
Info:Vintage (2008), Edition: Revised & enlarged, 425 pages
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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (2007)

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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
This just felt anecdotal to me. There's a blurb on the back cover from Newsweek that says - "Sacks spins one fascinating tale after another to show what happens when music and the brain mix it up." Yes, exactly but what is the glue and what is the insight or the takeaway? Sure, parts were interesting but not felt like a litany of "this, then this, then this" without much of a thread to unify it all. ( )
  shaundeane | Sep 13, 2020 |
Perhaps I should stop reading Oliver Sacks, because I think I had the same problems with The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. He’s a beautiful writer, warm and compassionate, clearly interested in the oddities of the brain, and good at conveying psychological information. There was a lot in the book that was illuminating or at least interesting, and I learned a lot about how weird the brain can get and how separated processes are in it. On these counts, Sacks is praised for good reason.

But there were two issues that lowered my enjoyment. First, while the case studies and anecdotes are interesting, I was hoping for more depth in the science and discussions, some progression in his style since Man Who Mistook His Wife, and Sacks kept returning to past books or moments of his life for them too, which got to feel almost a bit repetitive and self-congratulatory.

And second—and this is the big one, guys—Sacks’ acceptance of the non-neurotypical is imperfect, and that’s what really lost me. It’s not even more than a few instances of ableist language, but it’s there. Stuff like how people with X aren’t normal or can’t do something, or using and quoting outdated terms for people with developmental delays (which have become slurs), or in a few instances, turning his stories almost into pity-porn.

Now, it could be that he’s using clinical definitions of “normal” and “ability” and the slurs* and I, in my cynical laywoman’s way, am reading too much into things, or it could be a generational difference or the fact that discourse around this stuff has progressed since the book was published, I don’t know. I can say that this is a fairly long book full of descriptions of the neurodiverse and clinical wordings that aren’t ableist, so we know he can do it. That almost makes his slips stand out more.

Whatever the reason, the wording issues threw me off and coloured the rest of the book once I started noticing them. (I might’ve been harder on the anecdote front because of my grumpiness, for instance.)

I don’t think I can really recommend this one, but I also don’t think I can un-recommend it to people. The information is interesting. The writing is good. It’s just … also not the best it could have been?

* He probably is, with the slurs

Warnings: Ableist language, including mostly-quoted and always clinical uses of slurs against the developmentally delayed, but also concerning the mentally ill and autistic.

5/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
From the back cover: Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something or remind us of our first date.It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does - humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks' compassionate, compelling tals of people, struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people - from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of 42, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia" to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds - for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong. Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replya, and how a suprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frquently, 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. Music is irresistable, huanting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

---------------

As someone with a fascination for neurology (I should have specialized in the area professionally), a love of Oliver Sacks' work and a lover of music, especially live performances, this book was right up my alley. I'm a bit surprised I waited so long (embarassingly long!!) to read it, but it certainly did not disappoint. I can't describe it any better than the intro did -- Sacks speaks to the layperson, and tells numerous real life tells from his practice, to explore the workings of music and musical comprehension in the brain. Recommended, and no additional science knowledge required.

Some quotes / sections I liked:

By the age of 7 he could reproduce long and elaborate pieces of music after a single hearing and constantly found himself "overwhelmed" by musical emotion. He said it was understood, practically from the start, that he would be a musician, and that he had little chance of doing anything else, because his musicality was all consuming. He would not, I think, have had it any other way but he sometimes felt his musicality controlled him, rather than the other way around. Musical ability, as with mathematics, can be especially precocious and may determine one's life from a very early age.

They observed there was a critical period for the development of absolute pitch, before the age of 8 or so. Roughly the same age at which children find it much more difficult to learn the phnomes of another language (and thus to speak a second language with a native accent).

He doesn't strongly weigh in on the question if music or language evolved first, only devoting two paragraphs to it. He ultimately concludes that it appears probable that musical rhythm evolved independently from speech. (Even then, he never says what he believes, as just present research of a few others. )

A number of my friends who are intensely sensitive to music can not have it on as background while they work; they must attend to the music completely or turn it off, for it is too powerful to allow them to focus on other mental activities [ raises hand!!!].

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 directly; it needs no mediation. ...And there is a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.

"Together" is a crucial term, for a sense of community takes hold, and these patients who seemed incorrigibly isolated by their disease and dementia are able, at least for awhile , to recognize and bond with others.

Music does not have to be familiar to exert its emotional power. I have seen deeply demented patients weep or shiver as they listen to music they have never heard before, and I think that they can experience the entire range of feelings the rest of us can, and that dementia, at least at these times, is no bar to emotional depth. Once one has seen such responses, one knows that there is still a self to be called upon, even if music, and only music, can do the calling. ( )
  PokPok | Jul 3, 2020 |
Oliver Sacks came from a musical family & although he is very much into neurology, this is an in depth treatment of music and illness that was missing from diagnostic manuals.

There are several cases where physical trauma causes a profound interest in music. There are also some chapters where a musician looses his musical interest for weeks, months, or even longer after a trauma or illness. I never knew there were so many ways to have a musical disorder, or that to a tone deaf person, speech sounds normal, but music might be an uncomfortable sound like clattering pans.

"The powers that are heightened in savant skills are always of a concrete sort, whereas those that are impaired are abstract and often linguistic - and ther have been many speculations as to how such a conjunction of strength and weaknesses may come about." (Page 155)

"All savants spend years developing and honing their skills, ... Being a savant is a way of life, a whole organization of personality, even though it may be built on a single mechanism or skill." (Page 159) After telling of several cases of memory when associated with music he muses: "One has to wonder how much Martin, my retarded savant patient, understood of the two thousand cantatas and operas he knew by heart or how much Gloria Lenhoff, a woman ... with an IQ under 60, actually comprehends the thousands of arias in thirty-five languages which she can sing from memory." (Page 239)

[Kitty Stiles] "was also an audacious improviser, and very playful - both on the keyboard and in life; without this, I suspect many of her efforts [with music therapy] would have been futile." (Page 251)

The last few chapters cover genetic disorders, and various dementias and how they are affected by music. Music is therapeutic and he also describes it's limitations.

Since finishing this book, I've been pondering it enough that it must be a 5 star.

The main thing that I got out of this book is that autistic people may be a savant in some concrete area, but cannot handle abstract. The end of the book talked about people with Williams (Syndrome). These are retarded people by usual measures, but they are very proficient in human relations. Abstract vs. concrete. This perspective causes me to feel a greater "appreciation" for the soft sciences. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
I wrote to Sacks just after starting this, suddenly thinking he was the man to answer a question I'd been asking musicians for years.

When I was little I played violin and piano to a high standard, but although I was technically supposed to be equal in both, the fact is I was a fine violinist and a crap pianist. I never really liked the piano.

Being lefthanded, it never surprised me that I was good at the violin, since, after all, the left hand does more or less everything whilst the right hand saws away with the box. Righthanded violinists hate it when you say this. They all think sawing away is the important bit, but obviously it isn't.

When I was first learning the violin, my parents wondered if I should learn on a left-handed violin, so that I was playing as a righthander would. Luckily they did not choose that path for me.

However. I have subsequently had an idea that this is exactly what they should have done for me as a pianist. In general the left hand, the bass, goes boom, boom, and the right hand does all the work. So quite clearly, it suddenly seemed to me some years ago, if I'd been able to play piano in reverse, maybe I would have felt it was part of me, the way I did the violin. Maybe I wouldn't have sucked at piano.

Nobody has ever answered this question for me, much as everybody thinks it is interesting.

However, just yesterday at lunch, Luke, a man with an IPhone and a net connection looked it up and now there is a pianist, lefthanded, who felt exactly as I did. Christopher Seed, an accomplished professional pianist decided he'd play even better if his left hand could do all the work.

Question answered, though more data would be ince.

Sacks never responded. I'm still going to read the book, but.

  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
The gentle doctor turns his pen to another set of mental anomalies that can be viewed as either affliction or gift.

If we could prescribe what our physicians would be like, a good number of us would probably choose somebody like Sacks (Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, 2001, etc.). Learned, endlessly inquisitive and seemingly possessed of a bottomless store of human compassion, the neurologist’s authorial personality both reassures and arouses curiosity. Here, Sacks tackles the whole spectrum of the human body’s experience of music by studying it from the aesthetic as well as medical viewpoint. Fantastical case studies include a young boy assaulted by musical hallucinations who would shout “Take it out of my head! Take it away!” when music only he could hear became unbearably loud. Less frightening are stories about people like Martin, a severely disabled man who committed some 2,000 operas to memory, or ruminations on the linkage between perfect pitch and language: Young children learning music are vastly more likely to have perfect pitch if they speak Mandarin than almost any other language. ..
added by MsMixte | editKirkus Reviews (Aug 15, 2007)
 

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What an odd thing it is to see an entire species—billions of people—playing with, listening to, meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call "music."
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Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does--humans are a musical species. Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. Here, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and Oliver Sacks tells us why.--From publisher description.

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