Bring in an example of Classical Crossover as defined and exemplified in the following paragraph along with a cogent description of the use of classical music and its goals. Does it accomplish it successfully? How does it change the example?
Finally, there is of course deafness. But are those who are deaf unable to “hear” music in their own way? Let’s hear from someone with a cochlear implant exactly what their experience is with music.
There is even evidence that your brain recognises the stuff you like versus stuff you like less even when you’re not aware of it. Check out this fMRI video of Oliver Sacks.
It’s important to note that when we discuss the mind and the brain, we’re sort of referring to the software and hardware parts of what makes you, you. The mind is thoughts, feelings, hopes, desires, memories, beliefs, experiences, and the brain is a physical collection of neutrons, whose activity creates the mind. This duality dates from Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I am.” Contemporary scientists and philosophers continue to believe that they are two parts of the same whole. The sum total of the mind is the patterns of firings in the brain. However, even when the mind is gone and the brain ceases functioning, the brain can continue to exist thoughtless in a jar.
Curiosity about music and the brain is not a new concern. Darwin, in his seminal text, On the Origin of Species, spent 10 pages ruminating on the origins of music, and its ancient utility for evolution. He believed that music evolved before speech as emotional utterances, kind of the way we can understand our pet dogs and cats when they whine and make different sounds at us. Music was pure emotion used to tell a story and communicate. Thus, baby babbling is a precursor not just to speech, but to music making. Both speech and music feature syntax, context, linking nonadjacent ideas that require cues to fill in the blanks, creating and fulfilling expectation. In fact, it has been shown that kids studying music gain the same levels of understanding towards speech and as kids studying drama.
Studies involving primates and human music have shown that they would prefer silence to human music. Here’s a hilarious video of how much penguins hate opera. However, if we readjust our parameters, and use the cadences of the animal’s specific emotional utterances, it appears to create quite different results. Here’s a study using tamarind monkeys and tamarind monkey specific music. Here’s an example of a musician that created music to calm his girlfriends dog that turned out to have broader application for all dogs. And of course, if we’re going to talk about animals, we need to discuss songbirds. Their music is different from ours in that much of it is instinctual and not learned, but we can consider parrots, who are incredible vocal learners. To demonstrate just how amazing they are, let’s consider the parrot of a musician, pianist Bruce Adolphe, who plays the segment Piano Puzzler for NPR.
Isn’t that uncanny?
In terms of answering Darwin’s question about the evolutionary function of music, we know that the first instrument archeologically excavated was a flute made from bird bones 40,000 years ago, which means our involvement with music predates even that. We know from studying gym music that entrainment and the emotional contagion from music helps create social bonding. There have been other studies indicating that socialisation has definite results from musical activities. Researchers performed a study where they invited two groups of toddlers to come play by a make belief pond of frogs. One group sang to the frogs to wake them up, and the other group did everything but anything musical to wake them up. After the activity, the researchers and parents left to go to the next room where there are two way mirrors, leaving the children with sticks filled with marbles and the instruction that there was a game for them to play with the sticks across the room. One of the children’s sticks was rigged to immediately fall apart. The group that did not participate in a musical awakening tended to let that unfortunate child pick up their marbles alone, and the group that did participate overwhelmingly tended to help them before going together to play on the opposite wall. Other studies have been done with even younger infant children. One showed that if the researcher and the mother holding the infant in her lap conversed in a musical way, singing their sentences, they could get the baby to not fuss for an average of 9 minutes vs. 4-5 minutes using regular speech. In another, they had the mothers play with their 10 month old infants for a while, then suddenly stop for 15 seconds with a completely expressionless, still face. If you ever want to freak a baby out, this is the way. They will completely freak out. When that happens, one group was instructed to calm their child by singing, and the other by any other way, including touch. Music soothed the infants faster and better than even touch and speech by a lot. Indicators of stress including skin conductance immediately began to fall, whereas with speech and touch they continued to rise for a while before finally falling.
There is something instinctive and important linked to our emotions and our experiences with music. Here is a collection of musings on the subject from the Opinions section of the NYTimes. It would be ideal to read some of these essays and consider them as you write your blog for this week.
One physiological response common to all of us with music is the feeling of chills. When they happen and with which piece is very individual, but everybody has experienced them at some point. This article talks about this effect in detail. Basically, the effect often occurs with sudden changes in texture, harmony, timber, etc., such that the ancient amygdala fear response is activated but suddenly suppressed so its a compressed extra fast fight/flight response.
In fact, we know that there’s quite dramatic effects of music on the physical body. A study was conducted with patients heading for hip replacement surgery. One group listened to classical music before, one group listened to soothing noises like rain and whale song, and one group listened to nothing. The group that listened to classical music overall consumed 15% less anaesthesia and produced less cortisol (stress hormone) during surgery. Many major surgical complications are from anaesthesia, so the less consumed the better in general. The same fall in the stress hormone, cortisol, was found again when they played classical music in Neonatal ICU (NICU) wards. This suppression allowed these music babies to actually grow faster and leave the NICU sooner. It makes sense if you think about it. If your body is devoting most of its energy to fight/flight response and stress, it has less resources to devote to growth and development.
Music Therapy is a field that’s gaining increasing interest amongst the medical community for what it can do. Here’s a brief video outlining what is Music Therapy (UD’s MT program is widely regarded by the way!). Here’s a video showing how it can enliven even patients in hospice who are more gone than there. Here’s one on how music therapy can benefit children with special needs including autism. Here’s a video of a project going into retirement communities to provide stimulation and enhancement for the residents. Here’s a segment of a news broadcast on music therapy and its impact on the perception of pain with possible applications towards the opioid crisis. Here’s a video of a stroke survivor learning how to walk again, another learning how to talk again, and another learning how to access their left visual field again.
Even without having any issues, engaging with music, particularly through playing an instrument, can have tremendous benefits for the brain. Music involves every part of the brain: rhythm and feeling are in the cerebellum and amygdala, listening involves the auditory cortices, if there’s any memories evoked, the hippocampus and frontal lobes are engaged, reading music involves the visual cortices in the back of the occipital lobe, listening and playing/singing back involve the language areas in the temporal and frontal lobes, playing involves the premotor and motor cortices on both sides. Here’s a neat Ted talk that emphasises this point and shows it graphically. In fact, it has even shown that people, especially children, who are exposed to musical education have far thicker corpus callosums (the bridge joining the two hemispheres of the brain) than those who don’t. It’s like building extra highways for your thoughts to go across. It’s been proven that to train your brain, learning and playing an instrument is far better than an app, and music training can even raise school results in subjects like reading and maths more than extra tutoring in those areas.
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