Music is unlike any other experience in the world. It is a language all its own that bridges cultures, backgrounds and experiences. It is communal and personal. It affects us emotionally, physically and mentally. It heals. And it can hurt.
“Think about how a rhythm can stay with us for decades; it can stimulate memories for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Music is a mechanism for rehabilitation for stroke victims and movement disorders,” said Dr. Randy Rosenberg, MD, FAAN, FACP, Associate Professor of Neurology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. “The response we have to music is so complex — it affects so many areas of the brain — that while it has unparalleled therapeutic properties, problems can and do arise.”
On Thursday, March 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Dr. Rosenberg will present The Musical Brain: Neurological Curiosities of Music, Musicians and the Rest of Us. He will bring his expertise in neurology and 50 years of musical performance to a conversation about who the brain decodes, interprets and, at times, corrupts the appreciation of music, melody and rhythms.
Topics will include the neurophysiology of listening, tone deafness, hearing loss, therapeutic uses of music and the often-tragic stories of composers and performers afflicted with neurological illness. This one-night non-credit seminar is appropriate for lay and professional audiences. Register online at noncredit.temple.edu/nce.
“Music and language are interchangeable — beat processing is a part of language. Humans are the only creatures that can process a beat and turn it into movement,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “Other creatures have language but we take rhythm, use it and try to enhance it. Every single culture processes music.”
Dr. Rosenberg said to discover a perfect example of using music as a form of treatment you need look no further than Temple University.
“Temple has one of the best music therapy departments in the world. Rhythm and tempo are particularly useful for patients affected by stroke or Parkinson’s. Melodic intonation therapy has shown that in cases where these is a loss of language, where the left side of the brain is damaged, patients did not lose the ability to sing — the brain patterns were still activated,” he said. “The evidence thus far with music therapy is that there is no question there is a change to general physical health and mood. It is a very difficult, but fascinating, thing to study because music and our response to music is so personal.”
Dr. Rosenberg has a personal connection of another sort to music. He has been playing flute since he was 14-years-old and is the principal flutist with the Warminster Symphony.
“For me, music gave me, and continues to give me, a sense of community and collaborative accomplishment. It teaches you grace, harmonics and enhances your ability to listen to others,” he said. “I believe the lessons taught by music — particularly the lessons you learn from playing music, collaborating and becoming part of something larger than yourself — are some of the most important lessons a child can learn.”
Considering the complexity of how people respond to music, it’s no real surprise that for people whose entire lives center around the creation of music problems can and do arise in the way they process music, said Dr. Rosenberg, particularly when a disconnect occurs that separates them from their craft.
For example, Beethoven nearly gave into deep despair as his own hearing loss became more profound.
“When Beethoven premiered the Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, in Vienna it was like the pop music spectacles of today; there was so much anticipation, so much excitement. At the end of the performance, the audience was astonished by what they had heard, they were completely captivated,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “Beethoven had become turned around in the moment — he couldn’t see the audience and couldn’t hear their applause. He was devastated; he thought his symphony was an abject failure.”
Finally it was the mezzo-soprano who helped him discover the audience and see for himself the standing ovation and the adulation that his work had reaped.
“The feelings of utter despair and absolute triumph in just a few moments time must have been profound,” he said.
Dr. Rosenberg said ultimately he wants to “help people understand that music is critical and important and unifying.”
“It is one of the greatest single sources for brain enlightenment and activation,” he said. “Think of the most important aspects of society and the world and usually they are explained in musical terms.”
For more information about Non-Credit and Continuing Education programs at Temple University, visit noncredit.temple.edu/nce.