Mind Shaping:

Perhaps you saw the movie Awakenings that came
out in 1990 and starred Robin Williams and Robert De
Niro. It was based on the memoirs of Dr. Oliver Sacks, a
neurologist who tried out a new drug (L-Dopa) on a group
of patients who had been frozen in a decades-long sleep
due to an outbreak of encephalitis shortly after the first
world war. Amazingly, the patients revived temporarily
from their trance-like state and the movie documents the
extraordinary transformations that took place.

Dr. Sacks has recently published another book
entitled Musicophilia. In it, he recounts compelling stories
of people struggling to adapt to different neurological
conditions. His work has helped neuroscience change the
way it views our brains. He discusses the power of music
through the individual experiences of patients, musicians,
and everyday people. For example, he tells about a man
who is struck by lightning and is suddenly inspired to
become a pianist at the age of forty-two. He refers to an
entire group of children with Williams Syndrome who are
hypermusical from birth. He mentions that there are people
with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the
clattering of pots and pans. He recounts the amazing story
of a man suffering from dementia whose memory spans
only seven seconds, for everything but music, and who still
professionally sings the baritone part in a number of songs.

Perhaps most remarkably, Dr. Sacks' research
has shown that music has a profound effect upon our brain
development. A professional musician's brain shows
evidence of increased memory storage capacity even on a
macroscopic level. It is quite amazing that the centres for
music in our brain are larger than even our speech centre.
In fact, music is stored in parts of our brains that seem
impervious to diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
that devastate other parts of our brains. People suffering
from Alzheimer's have been known to retain the ability to
sing while being unable to talk.

This is why music and music lessons are so
important in the lives of children. Their developing brains,
according to Dr. Sacks' research, are shaped by their
exposure to music training. By giving our children music
lessons, we give them the best chance to develop to their
greatest potential. The profound effect of music on their
brain chemistry and development helps to shape the people
they will become.

Article by Dr. J. Lucas