More From Oliver Sacks

Deborah speaks of the “momentum” of the music in its very structure. A piece of music is not a mere sequence of notes, but a tightly organized organic whole. Every bar, every phrase, arises organically from what preceded it and points to what will follow. Dynamism is built into the nature of melody. And over and above this, there is the intentionality of the composer, the style, the order, and the logic which he has created to express his musical ideas and feelings. These, too, are present in every bar and phrase

Very nice! Even in process based music (like totally integrated, or chance music), we humans relate everything we hear to occurrences before and then project those expectations into the future.  Sacks rightly cites David Huron’s book Sweet Expectations near by.

We are a linguistic species—we turn to language to express whatever we are thinking, and it is usually there for us instantly. But for those with aphasia, the inability to communicate verbally may be almost unbearably frustrating and isolating; to make matters worse, they are often treated by others as idiots, almost as nonpersons, because they cannot speak.  Much of this can change with the discovery that such patients can sing–sing not only tunes, but the words of operas, hymns, or songs.  Suddenly their disability, their cut-offness, seems much less–and though singing is no propositional communication, it is a very basic existential communication.  It not only says, “I am alive, I am here,” but may express thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed, at this point, by speech…

I love this excerpt.  The quote, “It not only says, ‘I am alive, I am here,’ but may express thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed, at this point, by speech…”, is a stunning way of describing not only how music affects these people with aphasia, but how music affects us all.

Sacks, O. W. (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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