Friday, March 11, 2011

Music on the mind

Like most people, I suppose, I get tunes on the brain, usually for a short time. Unusually, however, I have had one tune on the brain for over a year, that beguiling little overture from Masques et Bergamesques by Gabriel Fauré, sometimes quite a bit of the opening paragraph, sometimes pared down to the two-note upbeat. This set me wondering about tunes on the brains in general and I have been reading two fascinating books by the American neurologist, Oliver Sacks, the more known being The Man who mistook his wife for a Hat, the other called Musicaphilia. He writes about all sorts of tunes on the brain, quite a few of which are about cases where the music is so loud and upfront that at first the patients try to source the sound to a radio or a band playing outside the window; before realising that the noise comes from inside their own head. One woman hears three or four Irish songs sounding continuously, songs she hasn't heard since she was an adolescent; other patients have heard music continuously sometimes, works that they have not known.

And some patient's brains have somehow turned into radio stations. In many cases the well-known drug L-dopamine can provide relief.

The only famous name – appearing in both the Sacks books mentioned is that of Dmitri Shostakovich. Sacks quotes an article that appeared in the New York Times (no date given) stating that the composer had somehow got a metal chip embedded in his head. And he is reported to have stated that he did not wish to have the chip removed as, if he inclined his head a certain way, he heard tunes that he could incorporate in his compositions.

Interesting – could it be true?

George Shearing died on February 14 at the age of ninety-one, great pianist, great musician, and great jazz man!

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