Tuesday, January 02, 2007

M U S I C ... I N ... M Y ... S O U L

Links Updated 1/07/07

A new jazz vocalist friend brought to my attention a New York Times article (12/31/2006) by Clive Thompson entitled Music of the Hemispheres. This article references a book "This Is Your Brain On Music" (Dutton), a layperson's guide to the emerging neuroscience of music" by Dr. Daniel Levitin. I found this website and the music there intriguing: http://www.yourbrainonmusic.com/

Mr. Thompson's article quotes Dr. Levitin: "By the age of 5 we are all musical experts, so this stuff is clearly wired really deeply into us." Dr. Levitin is described as a youthful 49, exploring music questions as to why and how we recognize music after hearing as little as just one note. He is unique in that he spent 15 years as a record producer before becoming a cognitive psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, "perhaps the world's leading lab in probing why music has such an intense effect on us" writes Mr. Thompson.

The article has some interesting references to Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Elton John, the Beatles, The Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Levitin's work argues that musical and mathematical ability are not inherently linked based on his study of people with Williams syndrome, according to Mr. Thompson, though there are those who disagree with some of Levitin's arguments.

Dr. Levitin's professional music career included his having "a punk outfit," also he appeared once as a backup saxophonist for Mel Torme' the article continues. This brings to mind Torme' who died in 1999, is known to have had perfect pitch. He was a musician's musician, a jazz vocalist favorite of mine, so hearing him sing in person at an intimate dinner club years ago in the 1960's was a real pleasure, though it was reportedly during one of the most difficult times of his career. Much has been written about Torme' including some here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Torm%C3%A9.

These thoughts also come to mind after reading the article, since music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was taught piano for about five years as a young child, had several years of dance, then life's circumstances intervened to the extent I no longer had the opportunity to continue with either. Up to that point though, I do recall Sunday afternoons with my mother in the town where I was born, attending a local philharmonic orchestra's regular performances. Repeatedly mother impressed upon me that the philharmonic orchestra's director was not only from a nearby private university, to which I then aspired attending, but he had been associated with an orchestra led by the highly regarded Paul Whiteman about whom you can read more here:

Paul Whiteman's orchestra introduced George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue," The piece was the first of which I was aware that had embedded itself in my soul. Perhaps the music was already a part of me, merely rushing out to float on the rhythms of Gershwin's melodies when I heard the notes of this "Rhapsody" which bridges the genres of classical and jazz. This is the seed I recall from which my subsequent broad musical tastes evolved. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhapsody_in_Blue

Movie musicals were an entertainment that as a child I was allowed to attend on occasion. I recall pianist Jose Iturbi performing a mesmerizing version of "Rhapsody In Blue" in one such movie. Two other significant music events occurred during those years: I saw my very first movie, entitled Cabin In The Sky with Lena Horne and she was the very first vocalist to touch my jazz soul.

Throughout my life listening to music has been a key nourishing element for my every mood or state of mind. At times I wanted music that reflected my feelings. At other times I've wanted music that contrasted with what I was feeling. In either instance my thoughts flourished while listening to the music, much as a plant responds to the light, to being fed and watered.

Perhaps it is no coincidence I married someone who also loved music, devoted many years of his life to his avocation as a professional jazz musician, both performer and listener. When he died mid-May 2006, I intuitively found needed comfort in music, including many jazz recordings, which for many weeks played from the time I arose each morning, until I went to bed at night. I sought out jazz concerts, which serendipitously for me, I found occurring for a few hours Sunday afternoons (free) only a mile or so from my home, which I began attending regularly.

Various rotating professional musical groups perform there year round. I may introduce some of these groups and/or individual members here sometime during this new year of 2007 and I add some talk of music. My fantasy is to eventually add some photos, audio and even video to these posts -- much for me to learn technically, first. Meanwhile, I'll continue to ponder some of the ideas set forth in Mr. Thompson's article.


  1. A very interesting post Joarad....I so relate to all this about music....It has been so incredibly important to me for my whole entire life---ALL kinds of music...Classical, Jazz, Blues, Pop, Broadway, etc...including the writing of music as well as being a singer...
    I will go over and take a look at what this gentleman has written about music...but like you, I feel that music is part of my soul and spirit...In fact, I don't know what I would have done without music in my life for all these years and years and years...

  2. Jazz has been my main musical love since I was in high school. Mel Torme, Paul Whiteman, Gershwin, etc. are all favorites, so I dig this post! Now I am going to check out the links you have provided. THANKS!

  3. oldoldlady: you are so fortunate to have had the talent to incorporate music into all aspects of your life -- personally and professionally. Additionally, others have been able to enjoy music because of your talent and performances. I just can't imagine life without music.

    kenju: nice to know someone else shares some of my musical favorites from generations that are past. Their music does live on for many of us and even some in current generations.

  4. I'm so sorry to read that you lost your husband so recently. Condolences.

    I caught this article, too, via a brain blogger. We're learning so much about neuroscience. Some of it is just affirming what our common sense told us all along. imo.

  5. Wonderful!!! I love a Gershwin and "Rhapsody in Blue" is probably my favorite composition of his. I also love jazz -- the old stuff is best although Diana Krall reminds me of Rosemary Clooney at her best. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  6. The brain/music theory is very interesting.

    I would classify myself as a "jazz light" fan. I'm probably more of a parrothead *grin*

  7. Very interesting post. I find myself changing the focus of my interest in music of late. I have always been aware that music can create a mood, for example in the Hitchcock movie you refer to in another post, but I was never interested in the music beyond the initial hearing if it didn't fall into my "favorite listening" category. Maybe its because I can so quickly find a song at iTunes now, but I find myself noticing songs used to create a feeling in a commercial, a film, or a TV show and then buying the song to keep, listen to and try to understand.