Carl Ellenberger, MD
(photo: Kathy Judd)
Music, an ability that distinguishes homo sapiens from all other species, can help shape the developing as well as the adult brain by activating and expanding parts of the brain that can also serve other purposes. We have learned not only where these parts are but also how they connect and strengthen with practice and study. Dr. Ellenberger addresses why we like certain kinds of music and why playing and listening can exercise the brain at all ages. Music can be a risk-free treatment of a range of human disease. Especially when learned early, it prepares us for engaging the full spectrum of human understanding necessary for individuals and societies to achieve their fullest human potential.
Part One: Music in the Brain
1. Why is Music?
2. My Music: Why do we like certain kinds?
3. Can Music Make Us Smarter?
4. Can Music Heal?
5. Music vs. Alzheimer’s
6. Music and Dance vs. Parkinson’s
7. Note to My Healthcare Proxy
8. Treasure Your Hearing
9. What’s Your Temperament?
10. Musicians with Dystonia
11. What’s the Matter with Classical Music?
12. Sex and Classical Music
13. Disdain for Classical Music
14. Purple Brain
Part Two: Music in my World
15. A Model for Arts Education
16. There’s No Place Like Mt. Gretna
17. Doctor in the House
18. Syrinx and Old Goats Playing the Flute
19. Russian Festival (2014)
20. Summer of Love (2016)
21. The Village Bach Festival
22. The Audubon String Quartet
23. Flutes and Stethoscopes
24. Franz Liszt
25. Remembering Jerry
26. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Music
27. Major Ted Kramers & Richard Strauss
28. Rubato Queen of Shaker Heights
29. My Illustrious Career as a Non-pianist
"If you are looking about for really profound mysteries, essential aspects of our existence for which neither the sciences nor the humanities can provide any sort of explanation, I suggest you start with music. The professional musicologists, tremendous scholars all, for whom I have the greatest respect, haven't a ghost of an idea about what music is, or how the human mind makes music on its own, before it is written down and played. The biologists are no help here, nor the psychologists, nor the physicists, nor the philosophers, wherever they are these days. Nobody can explain it. It is a mystery, and thank goodness for that."
Since a late medical colleague of mine, Dr. Lewis Thomas, wrote that in 1980, scientists have stepped up efforts to understand his mystery. What and why is music? Those “biologists, psychologists, physicists, and philosophers, wherever they are these days,”answer now to the new appellation, “neuroscientist,” and have applied new methods made possible by a growing critical mass of interest and data, the latter a product of the digital revolution, including the ability to see the living brain at work using functional magnetic resonance imaging in real time (fMRI).
If such an eminent biologist as E. O. Wilson can speak of the neuroscience of religion, then we can also speak of the neuroscience of music
"When I have to play for anyone, I'm overcome by an anxious inhibition of my fantasies that drives me to despair . . . the third finger seems really incorrigible."
Robert Schumann, 1832
". . .a kind of paralytic condition, manifested first in that [the fingers] possessed only a weak feeling, and second in that so far as movement was concerned, they no longer responded willingly."
Moritz Emil Reuter, M.D.
The music of Robert Schumann remains vital and wondrous in the universe of classical music. Perhaps we should thank dysfunctional brain plasticity for it. At the age of 22 when he was studying law against his wishes while also a piano student competing with his teacher's daughter Clara, with whom he was in love against her father's vehement wishes, drinking too much, actively searching for his sexual identity, feeling anxious and depressed, and fighting loneliness after his teacher took Clara away for months, Schumann began to lose control of the middle finger of his right hand. He tried various remedies to no avail, including mechanical contraptions and also a cutting-edge medical treatment of 1831, "inserting the ailing extremity into the moist belly of a slaughtered animal." Thereafter, Schumann turned from performing to writing music and writing about music.