***Post written by Carol Kramer, Northeast Representative for WSPA***
Shortly after Oliver Sacks died in August of 2015, I decided that I wanted to read all of his books. Dr. Sacks, the neurologist, had always been a person for whom I respected and marveled over, as his research and wonderful perspective of life was astonishing to me. During my first round of my school neuropsychology program I went to New York City for a week to observe the Brain Research Lab at the Bellevue Hospital. I had been told that when Oliver Sacks was in New York City, he would often frequent the hospital and the lab so I kept my ears piqued in hopes of hearing his British accent in the hallways. I never had the opportunity to meet him but I think I’ve learned to appreciate the man that he was by reading his books.
Dr. Sacks wrote Musicophilia to share his many stories of the patients with whom he shared his sincere compassion and his knowledge of the brain. He was able to weave the field of neuroscience into extremely interesting and often humorous stories. Many of the stories inspired me to investigate more about the various topics that are raised in the book. He is a grand story teller and has often been called ‘the poet laureate of medicine’.
The back cover of the book summarizes Musicophilia by stating: ‘With his trademark compassion and erudition (extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books), Oliver Sacks, explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. Among them: a surgeon who is struck by lightning and suddenly becomes obsessed with Chopin; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds ~ for everything but music. Dr. Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people who are deeply disoriented by Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia. ~~ Music can be inspiring, moving us to the heights or depths of emotion ~ and it can also be our best medicine. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.’
In the past couple of years two of my brothers have died from different forms of dementia. This book provided me with some powerful information which gave them both a sense of calm when they needed it the most. Both of them (independently, of course) sat with their eyes closed singing the words to songs as if they were reading the notes and words from a music page. Toward the end of their lives they would not have been able to articulate the words without the music playing. I am so very glad that I read Musicophilia before they passed, as I was able to apply some of what I learned in this wonderful book to their lives before their time was up…
Once again, I highly recommend this read!