Thursday, August 30, 2012

Audience Reactions

Performing for audiences is not the same thing as leading regular music therapy sessions. Working with groups on a weekly basis means getting to know them very well, both as individuals and as a group. There can be turnover in membership, but it tends to be slow and the group's identity remains stable and you get a good feel for how things are going to go.

With audiences it's like meeting a new person every time and you can never be sure what the chemistry will be, and often it seems the die is cast within the first few moments. I was reminded of this reading a post of Terry Teachout's talking about the first performances of a play he's written.

The most interesting part of seeing the play performed several times in a row has been the chance to see how different audiences react to it. When I wrote "Satchmo at the Waldorf", I never imagined that anybody would find it amusing--I expected it to get no more than a half-dozen laughs--and when Dennis Neal and Rus Blackwell staged the show in Orlando last fall, I was astonished to discover that the first two-thirds of the script played like a comedy. Much the same thing is happening in Lenox, albeit with the same wide variability of response that I first observed in Orlando. I suppose the best way to put it is that some audiences receive Satchmo at the Waldorf as a serious comedy and others as a funny drama. What's more, I can tell within a minute and a half of the beginning of the show which way it will be received on any given night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Brain Wiring and Perception

I'm mostly linking to this article because I'm a little red/green color blind and there's a certain subset of people who will quiz me to no end about how I see things. Besides now being able to say there's a chance I see Van Gogh's paintings just as he did, the illustrations here do a great job of demonstrating what's going on with color blindness.

While I've never had my hearing tested, my sense is that I don't hear bass lines as strongly as most people do. I also know people for whom high pitched sounds, that don't bother me, are somewhere between irritating and painful. 

The point is that you're making a mistake if you assume everyone is seeing or hearing exactly the same things you are because we're all wired a little differently, so even at the perceptual level - before associations come into play - we inhabit slightly different worlds.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Music and Touch

That music touches us is more than a turn of phrase. I think most people have at some time or other physically felt the pounding of bass instruments and drums. Our ears "feel" sound waves in their specialized way and the rest of our body can feel some sounds in a non-specialized way.

A famous exponent of this idea is Evelyn Glennie.

Glennie has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12. This does not inhibit her ability to perform at the international level. She regularly plays barefoot during both live performances and studio recordings in order to "feel" the music better.

Glennie contends that deafness is largely misunderstood by the public. She claims to have taught herself to hear with parts of her body other than her ears.

In this recent story about a young man getting some new hearing aids and fully hearing music for the first time, there's this detail in one of the photo captions:

Chapman prefers to listen to music on his bed with his foot on the bass amplifier to help him hear the music, through touch. Chapman claims the experience of hearing music for the first time ignited a new sensation in his brain, much like a first kiss.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Power of Music

This wonderful video has popped up in several places. I first saw it over at Musical Assumptions 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Families of Musicians

This NYT story involves something called "inherited memories" and says this about epigenetics:

There are scientific studies exploring whether the history of our ancestors is somehow a part of us, inherited in unexpected ways through a vast chemical network in our cells that controls genes, switching them on and off. At the heart of the field, known as epigenetics, is the notion that genes have memory and that the lives of our grandparents — what they breathed, saw and ate — can directly affect us decades later.

If this idea turns out to be right, it would help explain families like the Bachs.

It would also further convince me that people growing up in musical households where music is a second language will never be able to appreciate what it's like to come to music making on one's own outside the home and later in life. To my mind, so much that natural musicians assume - have in their genes, know without learning - has to be approached very differently for people without that advantage.

Friday, August 10, 2012

That Libet Study

I've mentioned the study by Benjamin Libet talked about in this article because it suggests there's more going on in our brains than we're conscious of when we make decisions. As it almost always does in neuroscience, followup work suggests things are more complicated than first thought, and that those who have pointed to the Libet study as an indicator free will doesn't exist are going to have to reconsider their view. If you frame the issue, though, simply as our not being fully conscious of how we make decisions - that still holds. 

According to Seth, when the volunteers in Libet's experiment said they felt an urge to act, that urge is an experience, similar to an experience of smell or taste. The new model is "opening the door towards a richer understanding of the neural basis of the conscious experience of volition", he says.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Advances in Music and Healing

This WSJ article is the current high water mark of how far the idea of using music as a therapeutic agent has come, at least as far as I'm aware. At lot of hard science is proving out various ways of using music to heal. Back in 1980 when I became a Registered Music Therapist (a credential that will cease in less than 10 years), I felt this kind of increased understanding of the healing powers of music would come, but that it would take longer than it has. 

Having followed the news on this front for over three decades, my sense is that a critical mass of info has been developed and that there's been an acceleration both in what we're learning and in the increasing acceptance of the therapeutic value of music.