I Wished Music Therapy Wasn’t Real

I was sitting there staring at the computer screen. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  

I have no idea how this happened, but I stumbled upon this thing called music therapy.

And in that moment, I wished I hadn’t found it.

This is where people use music as a therapeutic tool to help others heal and cope.

The late Oliver Sacks, a physician and the author of Musicophilia, knew music therapy was a legit health care approach. He said music therapy is “a tool of great power in many neurological disorders” including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

This, to me, is fascinating. And that’s exactly why I, at first, regretted finding out that music therapy existed.

You see, I had been hating school ever since it started. I had Senioritis since freshman year, and I was already on my third major. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a journalist (what I had apparently chosen as my career).

So when I heard about this career path that blended my love of music with helping people, I was both stoked and let down at the same time. I was nearing the end of my college career and I didn’t want to start from scratch with a new career focus.

Dang it, I thought. I wish I knew that music therapy was a thing like four years ago. I almost wish it weren’t a real thing.

But of course, I wasn’t really wishing music therapy into non-existence. I was just annoyed it was too late for me.

Music therapy helps so many people and I’m not going to stand in its way. I want everyone who needs music therapy to have access to it. It’s one of the most intriguing and powerful types of therapy out there.

If I’m ever in a life situation that requires me to go to therapy, I want it to be music therapy.

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101-Year-Old Woman With Dementia Doesn’t Forget Music

I read about a 101-year-old woman whose dementia seems to have skipped over the musical part of her brain. This is not the first case of music sidestepping brain sicknesses; Oliver Sacks has written about this happening with amnesia.

The article I read in New Scientist says she was a trained musician earlier in life, and those skills stuck with her:

“She rarely knows where she is, and doesn’t recognize people she has met in the last few decades. But she can play nearly 400 songs by ear.”

Elderly hands playing piano
Credit: newscientist.com

This article says that evidence shows music may be spread throughout the brain more than language.

“That might be a reason why it’s able to sustain itself for such a long period in folks that happen to be developing dementia.”

Music continues to amaze and baffle me.

Header photo via Alzheimer’s Society

Book Review: Musicophilia

The book begins by telling the story of a man who discovered his love of music after lightning struck him.

Next thing you know, you’re sucked into the outlandish true stories of people thriving and people enduring torment from their experiences with music.

These people were the patients and acquaintances of the late Oliver Sacks, who was a physician, a Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and an author of many other books about the brain.

Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks

In Musicophiliahe talks about synesthesia. Many types of synesthesia exist, but Sacks focused on one man named Michael Torke who saw colors with tones.

As a boy, Torke once said to his music teacher, “I love the blue piece.” This section made me jealous of synesthetes.

Sacks also wrote about how a man named Clive forgets nearly everything but remembers music and melody without hesitation. He remembers two things in life: his wife, Deborah, and music.

Besides that, his memory was a complete mess.

Sacks writes in a layman-friendly style with a bit of doctor lingo here and there. Both the common man (like myself) and the educated, Harvard-graduate, award-winning physician can be proud to display this on his or her bookshelf.

Sacks divided his stories into four parts:

  1. Haunted by Music (stories of people hearing music in their heads)
  2. A Range of Musicality (stories of synesthesia and blindness)
  3. Memory, Movement, and Music (amnesia, music therapy, Tourette’s, and Parkinson’s)
  4. Emotion, Identity, and Music (depression and dementia)

If you’ve never heard about things like synesthesia, musical hallucinations, or music’s effect on coping, this is the first book you should read.

RELATED: Sad music warms the musician’s heart

It’s somewhat of a lengthy book, weighing in at about 350 pages, but you may not be able to put it down.

Did We All Used To Have Synesthesia?

Imagine seeing colors fly out of someone’s mouth as they sing or speak. Imagine ribbons and double-helixes of silver and gold shoot from the end of a trumpet.

This is what color-hearing synesthesia is like, and you might have experienced this as a baby, according to the theory of two gentlemen.


Oliver Sacks writes in Musicophilia about Simon Baron-Cohen’s and John Harrison’s work that led them to write,

“We might all be colored-hearing synesthetes until we lose connections between these two areas [color and hearing areas of the brain] somewhere about three months of age.”

Musicophilia, page 181

Basically, Sacks goes on to write, the two senses mesh together, colors appearing with tones. But as we develop, the two separate, no longer creating a synesthetic experience, says their theory.

For those of you who don’t remember anything from infant age (like…all of us), you can watch the video below given to me by a young man with color-tone synesthesia.

He said this is the closest thing he’s found that illustrates what a synesthete sees, but he said he sees the colors more like ribbons and less like clouds.

Update, 8/26/15: click here to read about more evidence that we all grow out of our synesthesia as we develop, according to Discover Magazine.