Friday, March 18, 2011

Levitin Memories

With his book This Is Your Brain On Music, Daniel Levitin moved the neuroscience of music out of the labs and into public consciousness. In this column in support of music in the public schools of California he tells the story of how he got started in music in the first place. 

We met 20 minutes a week for a year, just the two of us. Mr. Edie taught me how to put the clarinet together and take it apart, how to condition reeds with sandpaper so that they would play more easily, how to clean the instrument. He showed me how to replace worn pads and to adjust the intricate metal key bars. He taught me how to play it too, how to coax a pleasing tone by breathing from my stomach, how to read music and finger the instrument, how to make a heartbreaking vibrato and a playful staccato. And in so doing, he taught me to respect the instrument, to feel a deeper connection with it. . . 

. . . We now know through neuroscience research that playing a musical instrument confers a number of advantages to cognitive development, especially in training attentional networks. But it also makes for a lifetime of pleasure and companionship. A child with musical ability is never alone and can engage with many of the greatest minds of all time — Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz. We can make our fingers trace the same positions and patterns Chopin did and come to know a little of what it was like to hear the world as he did.

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