ABOUT Theme and Variations

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  how these parts 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.

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Thank God the void left by the sublime Oliver Sacks has finally been filled.  –Maria Corley, Concert pianist from Juilliard

I am reading it slowly but surely having taken it on plane rides as THE book I'm reading when I'm on tour. As a musician and a composer and a human being who has walked the planet for 67 years with some observation skills I find your book to be very interesting.  

                          –Christopher Brubeck

I got carried away. The words flow out of you with a lot of charm and effortlessness.     –Dan Stolper, Dean of American oboe teachers

...invaluable resource for any musician, wherever they may be in age or understanding.

        –John Poynter, retired professor of History and pianist

It’s clear he knows his stuff, and he makes the science of music understandable throughout this work.                 –Kirkus Reviews


Tremendously interesting and enjoyable. Dr. Ellenberger's ear, trained for the flute, obviously extends to the music of the English language as well.

        –Phil DeMuth, Psychologist, musician, investment advisor

Seldom do you find an author so competent in two fields and who possesses the ability to integrate them in such a way that the reader is awestruck. This is a wonderful read.          –Diane Ross, Professor Emerita, Cal State

A fascinating and personal account of the relationship between music and the brain ranging from the development and plasticity of the brain in children to music as an adjunct to treatments of dementia and Parkinson's disease.

     --Annette Jordan, NetGalley Reviews

This book raises many compelling ideas about music: its joys and its effects on mind and body, increasingly important as funding is cut as we see funding cut for music in schools, rise in dyslexia and hyperactivity among kids, and increases among baby boomers of diseases linked to aging. 

  –Richard Arnold, Journalist for Australian Radio

I actually quite enjoyed reading how learning music can be beneficial to a developing brain and how the benefits continue as the brain ages.         –Melise Gerber, NetGalley Review

Table of Contents

MRI 'slice' through the human brain. Music activates a lot of real estate in the brain.


Part One: Music in the Brain

1.  Why There is Music?  

2.  Why We Like Certain Music Or None at All   

3.  Can Learning Music Make Us Smarter?   

4.  Can Music Heal?  

5.  Music vs. Alzheimer’s Can Music Delay Dementia?  

6.  Music and Dance vs. Parkinson’s  

7.  The Flute and The Stethoscope   

8.  Usher Me Out With Music  

9.  Treasure Your Hearing You Will Never Regain What You Lose  

10.  What's Your Temperament?  

11.  Musicians With Dystonia When Practice Makes Imperfect

12.  What's the Matter With Classical Music?  

13.  Disdain for Classical Music   

14.  Love: A Neuromusical Rhapsody

15.  Sex and Classical Music Better Marketing Through Chemistry    

16. "Purple Brain" (2016)

Part Two: Reflections on a Musical Life

17.  A Model for Arts Education  

18.  There’s No Place Like Mt. Gretna 

19.  Is There a Doctor in The House? 

20.  Old Goats Playing the Flute    

21.  Russian Festival (Gretna Music, 2014)  A Weird Slice of Music History   

22.  The Village Bach Festival 

23.  The Audubon String Quartet  

24.  A (Funny) Polymath  

25.  Thomas Jefferson & Music   

26.  He Commandeered A Villa But Not Just Any Villa  

27.  The Rubato Queen of Shaker Heights

28. My Illustrious Career as a Non-Pianist

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About The AUTHOR


  • I have taught, researched, and learned at the University of Rochester, Yale Medical School, University of Virginia, US Army Hospital, Ft Ord, CA, Washington University, Penn State University, Case Western Reserve University, Geissinger Medical Center, Lebanon Magnetic Imaging, American Neurological Association, American Academy of Neurology. I have contributed articles to The New England Journal of Medicine, Brain, Annals of Neurology, Archives of Ophthalmology, and others, and chapters in books, including Neuroimaging, a Companion to Adams' and Victor's Principles of Neurology and Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2016.
  • I have been certified in neuroimaging by the United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties and in Neurology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.


  • My career began at the Interlochen Center for the Arts during summers in high school. At The University of Rochester, I received a Performer's Certificate from its Eastman School of music. During medical education I played music with the Yale Collegium Musicum and Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the New Haven Symphony and later the Harrisburg Symphony, the Village Bach Festival, the Boulder Bach Festival, and the Festival Internacional de Musica en Toledo and others. When teaching at Penn State's medical school in Hershey, I started Music at Gretna (now Gretna Music). Over 44 years Gretna Music has hosted 1500 classical and jazz musicians including Grammy winners, MacArthur Fellows, concertmasters, Met Opera singers, and competition winners. Elizabethtown College awarded me a Doctorate in Music honoris causa. 

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My GretnaMusic Blog, 2012-2018


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Theme and Variations

PO BOX 70, Mount Gretna, PA 17064, US