The previous article on the changes that have taken place in piano design over time eventually led me to Stuart Isacoff’s website (stuartisacoff.net), which, in turn, lead me to a 2012 article about (among other things) the healing properties of music.
Perhaps the most striking moment of the [three-day symposium on “Music, the Brain, Medicine and Wellness”] symposium came when Gottfried Schlaug of Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center revealed the results of an approach he has developed, called auditory-motor mapping training, using pitch and rhythm to heal autistic children who are incapable of speaking. A video camera captured a boy, almost 5 years old, at various stages of the treatment: Although unresponsive at the beginning, after 10 sessions he suddenly uttered a word: “bubbles.” It was the moment at which his parents heard his voice for the very first time. (Autistic children love anything that makes bubbles, noted Dr. Schlaug.) After 40 sessions, he was speaking simple sentences as well as his name. As this progress played out on screen, a gasp went up from the entire audience. It was a dramatic example of how music is now being employed to revive dormant pathways in the brain.
Other articles I’ve found and mentioned here talk about, for example, how music can help bring Alzheimer’s patients out of their shells. Scientists typically look for explanations as to how and why these kinds of things happen, and tend to be somewhat “clinical” in their observations in these areas. But Stuart Isacoff, much more interested in the magic that results from exposure to music presses the point:
As the program went on, my trepidation about encountering what Friedrich Schiller called “the disenchantment of the world” seemed unfounded. Nevertheless, I decided to check on the emotional temperature of the scientists by conferring with Dr. Schlaug. Did he find this work as miraculous as I did?
“Sometimes something looks like a miracle, but it comes about through knowledge and skill. There is some explanation for the outcome,” he stated.
Still, I ask, wasn’t it emotionally jolting when that little autistic boy began to speak? “We have several children who have spoken for the first time,” he replied. “We had stroke patients who couldn’t speak, but we got them to sing. It keeps me going to find ways to coax the brain into doing something it is not doing. But it’s not about me—it’s about the patient and the patient’s family.”
“But,” I insisted, looking for agreement that this stuff is, indeed, magical, “doesn’t it give you chills?”
“Yes,” he conceded with a smile. “It definitely gives you chills.”