Today I'm going to talk about Henry. Henry has been on my mind a lot lately.
What? You don't remember Henry? Really?
That's okay. Some days Henry doesn't remember Henry, either.
This is Henry. His story is just one part of a documentary entitled "Alive Inside" created by Dan Cohen and his nonprofit organization Music and Memory. The film also features Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia, and Professor of Neurology at NYU.
"Alive Inside" follows the Music and Memory project, which worked with Alzheimer's patients and found music to be "a powerful tool for connecting elders to the people around them and restoring a sense of self."* In the video clip, Oliver Sacks says,
"The philosopher Kant once called music the quickening art, and Henry is being quickened--brought to life."
Science Friday featured the Music and Memory project and the documentary "Alive Inside" on their August 1st program. They interviewed both Dan Cohen and Oliver Sacks. The quotes from Oliver Sacks are taken directly from that broadcast.
In responding to Henry's experience with music in the film, Oliver Sacks says:
I've seen this happen with hundreds of people who don't have any direct access to their pasts but for whom music can act as a bridge...this has not just an emotional impact, though that's crucial, but says something about the brain's strange retention of music which is very remarkable, and uniquely human.
Interviewer: What do we know about what's happening in the brain when this happens?
Sacks: Well, when music is played or imagined many areas in the brain get activated. Some of them are hearing areas, some are visual areas, motor areas, many are emotional areas. There's no one music center in the brain. There are a dozen networks which hold together and, in this way, music is rather different from language. There are very specific language areas in the brain. And if those are knocked out, people can become aphasic, and lose language.
Whereas it is almost impossible to lose music; it's very robust.
I have listened to this portion of the interview over and over again. (Well, I had to, because I had to do that transcribing myself. You can listen here.)
The information Sacks is relating explains not only why music helps Alzheimer's patients, but also, in my opinion, why music is a essential part of our children's education.
Music connects. Music is the connection. Music travels within the brain to all the deepest parts of the self. Even when cognitive areas are damaged or degraded, the networks within us that are music can still thrive.
Look at all the areas in our brains that music can "quicken": hearing, visual, emotional, motor...So, in education: music can be the oxygen which allows the strictly cognitive paper and pencil work to "breathe" into the student and be meaningfully retained, the leavening which allows the learning process to rise, the glue that makes the learning stick.
Some day one of us, or more, may be like Henry. If it is me, and I am down and troubled, please fill my iPod with James Taylor, will you?
But let's do something in the here and now for our children. Let's stop letting people tell us that music, or art, or movement, or play are just something nice that you do. We know better than that, don't we?
*Taken from Science Friday interview.