Renowned professor speaks about music’s effect on the mind

Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, held a lecture on Monday afternoon in the Little Theater.

The 75-year-old professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University was introduced by Dr. Robert Forman, an English professor in the St. John’s Honors Department, and spoke about his book.

“Musicophilia is about the love of music and its effect on the mind,” said Forman. He recalled reading another book by Sacks, Awakenings, about 30 years ago with his mother and later seeing the book translated into film. The English professor admitted that he could not “introduce Dr. Sacks without saying something about [himself]” since his works are so memorable and personable.

Sacks told the audience that his family was very musical. However, he was “the least musical of the family.” The author said even despite that, “music has been a part of my personal life for as long as I can remember.” Sacks explained how the concept of music started to become integrated into his professional life when he began seeing patients with “deafness” to music or “amusia.”

Even though Sacks only sees about six to eight patients per week as a doctor, he deals with some very unique cases. He gave an example of one of his patients who was deaf only to music, and if she went to an orchestral concert, it would sound like noise to her.

A case of amusia is similar to being tone deaf in that one is unable to recognize or reproduce musical tones, rhythms, or pitches. Sacks detailed that anyone can get temporary amusia whether it be from a head injury or even a migraine. The neurologist read several excerpts from texts other than his own throughout the lecture to get his points across and help the audience understand what Musicophilia is all about.

After one excerpt he firmly stated that, “music should be a part of a primary education along with reading and writing,” which drew applause from the audience.

Most students, like Freshman Chris Kelly, had already read the book and was curious to see what the author had to say in person.

“I was interested in hearing more on the subject,” he said. “If someone didn’t read the book or have any background in the parts of the brain, it might be hard to follow,” he added.

Junior Hadia Sheerazi is also a fan of Dr. Sacks’ work.
“I’ve known of his work for years and I’ve read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and loved it – so I’ll definitely read Musicophilia.” She also said that in person, the he is “just as intelligent, impressive and knowledgeable.”

Senior Ben Liss agrees.

“I had read the book and I wanted to see what else he had to expand on.” He also thought that “the anecdotes were very funny and interesting. Brainworms or songs that stay in your mind is a very interesting concept.”

The professor closed by stating that “up until 30 years ago, neurologists paid very little attention to music,” and “music therapy has suffered in the past.” Even though we still don’t know “why or how music is so powerful, it is still one of the deepest things in our nature.”