The Music Instinct

The Music Instinct

While listening to music, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, asks the questions “where do goose bumps come from?” and “what’s going on in my brain that allows the goosebumps to happen?” Levitin leads a group of researchers as they investigate music’s fundamental physical structure; its biological, emotional and psychological impact; its brain altering and healing powers and its role in human evolution. The Music Instinct: Science and Song, a fascinating two-hour documentary on the science of music, premieres Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

The Music Instinct: Science and Song is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe. Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

“The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain,” says Levitin.” Music allows us to understand better how the brain organizes information in the world. There are a lot of different factors that go into our emotional appreciation of music [like] the memories we have of a particular song that we heard at a particular time in our lives.”

Internationally renowned performers Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma describe the way musical intervals are used or combined to create melody and harmony. McFerrin, together with the “World Singers,” sing a cappella to demonstrate that basic elements of music; pitch, tempo, rhythm and melody create specific reactions in our brains. Yo-Yo Ma plays two notes and then five more notes and then plays different combinations that demonstrate the way musical intervals are combined to create a melody or harmony.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie encounters music in a unique way, as fundamentally a “physical phenomenon.” Profoundly deaf, Glennie “hears” music not through her ears, but by feeling vibrations through the floor and in her body: low frequencies through her legs and feet; high sounds in particular spots on her face, neck and chest.

Rock stars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley were asked to participate in a new experiment to reveal the difference in the brain when two people perform music together – as opposed to solo. Neuroscientists wonder how two brains interact since music is fundamentally a social activity. Cocker was asked to enter a fMRI machine, while Hawley played his guitar in the room. When the Scan was analyzed it showed a measurable difference in brain activity when Cocker sang alone compared to when he sang with Hawley playing guitar. During the duet, Cocker’s brain was more active in areas for phrasing and coordinating music as well as cognitive and emotional interaction.

Research also shows that music has enormous potential to help explore the complexities of human brain function. For example, there’s a strong connection between the auditory and motor regions of the brain, and music seems to engage the motor system in a way that other modalities do not. People with motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease have improved their ability to walk while listening to a rhythm track, and stroke patients who have trouble with speech show signs of improvement when they receive music therapy. And there’s new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain – a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine. One thing is clear, proven and agreed upon; music has a profound capacity to influence and alter the human experience.

A world of pure imagination

A world of pure imagination

After hearing of Gene Wilder’s passing, like most of my peers my imagination was instantly swept along on a whirlwind ride of memories from the countless roles the monumental actor had who shaped my childhood.  Perhaps one of the most iconic was his portrayal of the great Willy Wonka in the 1971 film adaptation of the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  In the film, Wilder performs an enchanting song, “Pure Imagination” specially written for the movie by songwriting legends  Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley..  Out of force of habit, I have notated a violin arrangement of the tune for students who may wish to honor the late actor with a bit of musical adoration.Willy_Wonka_Pure_Imagination

Animaniacs Theme arranged for easy Ukulele

Animaniacs Theme arranged for easy Ukulele


This month, with Netflix releasing the great 90’s animated classic Animaniacs, i’ve had a number of students acquire an interest in the show. Some adults, waxing nostalgic remembering watching the series when it first aired, as well as many younger students watching it for the first time, frequently accompanied by those self-same sentimental grown-ups!

The theme was composed by the great Richard Stone , an American composer who was instrumental (hah) in the revival of animation in the 1990s, composing music and songs for The Simpsons with Danny Elfman, Tiny Toon Adventures, Taz-Mania, The Plucky Duck Show, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Histeria, The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, and Freakazoid.

Richard Stone also composed for various feature films and television series including the Bruce Campbell western Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Pumpkinhead, North Shore, and the miniseries In a Child’s Name. Stone worked on John Hughes films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles (both scored by Ira Newborn). Stone also composed the music for the William Shatner series, “Rescue 911”. Stone also scored the PBS Documentary “Medal of Honor” along with Mark Watters. He later wrote compositions for various films including, Summers heat, Never on Tuesday, Tripwire, Vietnam Texas, and Victim of love.

Stone has won several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition for Animaniacs and Histeria, as well as Outstanding Original Song, shared with lyricist, writer, creator and senior producer Tom Ruegger, for the main titles of Animaniacs and Freakazoid. Stone shared many of his music direction/composing awards with his team of composers, who included Steve Bernstein, Carl Johnson, Julie Bernstein, Gordon Goodwin and Tim Kelly.

According to Animaniacs writer/producer Paul Rugg, crew members fondly referred to Richard as “The Great Stonini,” a sort of musical magician whose compositions and orchestrations often raised the quality of the cartoons to unexpected musical and artistic heights.

I’ve transcribed a simplified version of the Animaniacs theme for one of my young ukulele students, so I thought i’d share for educational purposes. Of course, i’m not the copyright holder, yadda yadda yadda. Enjoy, and HELLO NURSE!
Animaniacs Theme Ukulele

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”

 

kris-kristoffersongraham-nashshel-silverstein

bob-dylanjohnny-cashjoni-mitchell

You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place. Continue reading

Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures

Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures

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Rufus Wainwright performs in London earlier this year. His cover of "Hallelujah" is among the best-known versions of the oft-interpreted Leonard Cohen song.

Rufus Wainwright performs in London earlier this year. His cover of “Hallelujah” is among the best-known versions of the oft-interpreted Leonard Cohen song.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

There are songs, and then there are anthems.

One of those anthems is the subject of music journalist Alan Light’s new book, The Holy Or The Broken. Continue reading

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook

Anne Boleyn's Songbook - photo courtesy Heather Teysko

By Heather Teysko

In the spring of 1536 it would be a severe understatement to say that things were not going well for Anne Boleyn.  She was the Queen of England, but unable to carry and give birth to the living son she had promised her husband, Henry VIII.  She was imprisoned in the Tower of London, having been arrested on charges of adultery with five men after a false confession by her lutenist, Mark Smeaton.  In her possession in the Tower, and likely providing her a tiny bit of solace, was a songbook with favorite music she had collected throughout her life. Continue reading

Billy Bragg – Which Side Are You On chords

Billy Bragg – Which Side Are You On chords

A student of mine has been learning a few songs by the English singer-songwriter and activist, Billy Bragg who’s music blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs together.  Poking around the internet for some transcriptions of a few of his more potent pieces, I discovered a few of his pieces had been transcribed but not Which Side Are You On, which is what we were slated to learn for today’s lesson.  So unless Mr Bragg, or some bigwig copyright attorney (more likely) asks me to take it down i’ll post it here for your enjoyment. Continue reading